prison

Indiana Department of Correction

The Indiana Women’s Prison has taken hard measures to contain the coronavirus. Many inmates in the prison have spent long periods locked in their cells — which have no toilets, running water or air conditioning — with limited opportunities for relief. 

As temperatures rise over the summer months, advocates and those with loved ones inside certain housing units, known as the cottages, worry about the heat and long periods of confinement. They fear it could cause health problems for the inmates, and say that the treatment amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. 

Jake Harper/Side Effects

An Indiana Department of Correction policy may increase the spread of coronavirus in prisons by requiring “high risk” and “medium risk” staffers to report to work, Side Effects has learned. 

Paige Pfleger/Side Effects Public Media

Prison facilities across the U.S. have become hotspots for COVID-19 cases. More than 34,000 people in prisons across the U.S. have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to recent data from the Marshall Project, a nonprofit covering criminal justice. Side Effects reporters Jake Harper (WFYI, Indianapolis) and Paige Pfleger (WOSU, Ohio) joined community engagement specialist Brittani Howell to talk about covering prison outbreaks in their states.

Sean Tackett/WFIU/WTIU

Sherrie Sanders says she last spoke with her husband, George, on April 12. It was Easter Sunday. 

“He told me he was very sick. He had a fever of 102,” she says. “He knew he had [COVID-19], but they weren’t checking him. That’s the last I heard from him.“

COVID-19 spreads most easily when people are in close proximity. But for more than 26,000 inmates housed in Indiana's prisons, close proximity to other people is a part of life. State officials say they're working to prevent the virus from spreading in prisons, but those inside say it isn’t happening. 

Justin Hicks, Indiana Public Broadcasting

This story was updated at 3:45 p.m. on April 30, 2020 to include new information on Edwards' release date.

On the day Scottie Edwards died, he nearly fell over on the way to the bathroom. A pair of fellow inmates at the Westville Correctional Facility propped him up and got him to sit down on a toilet. 

“He had been sick for about a week and a half,” says one inmate named Josh in a recorded call. He asked to be identified by his first name, because he fears retaliation from prison staff. 

Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections

Prisoners can be heard coughing on calls coming out of Marion Correctional Institution, a minimum- and medium-security facility an hour north of Columbus, Ohio.

And mass testing recently revealed more than 80% of prisoners has contracted COVID-19, making Marion the nation's largest known COVID-19 hotspot.

Justin Hicks

During Monday’s coronavirus news conference, Gov. Eric Holcomb was optimistic about the situation statewide. He emphasized Indiana’s COVID-19 data. 

“I believe that Indiana is, quite frankly, faring better than some other locales around the world,” he said. “We’ll continue to be very transparent about those numbers.”

WFIU/WTIU

This post was updated at 1:05 pm on 4/13/20 to include new infections reported by the state. 

On Monday, April 6, an inmate at Indiana’s Plainfield Correctional Facility stayed up late. From his bunk, he composed two messages. In the first, he told his son that he loves him, that he’s proud of him. 

In the second message, he told his wife he was scared. “I can tell you right now, with nearly 100% certainty, that I am going to get this virus,” he wrote. The man’s wife says he suffers from lung disease, which could increase the chances of complications from COVID-19. 

WFIU/WTIU

Updated 04/08/2020 at 5:24 pm.

On Wednesday, Indiana's Joint Information Center confirmed to Side Effects that 10 prisoners in state Department of Correction facilities have now tested positive for COVID-19, along with 20 agency employees. 

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