ADOC commissioner gives update on COVID-19 in prisons

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The prison system’s top leader said the biggest challenge the Alabama Department of Corrections faces during the pandemic is the coronavirus case surge among employees at the prisons.

“My biggest concern is the virus among our employee population,” Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said. “It’s higher now than it has been in the last six or eight months and I think that just reflects the surge in the community.”

Dunn said they do have safety protocols in place, including requiring masks and checking temperatures.

“We have expanded hygiene protocols throughout that apply to everyone to include inmates,” he said. “But yes, we still are at risk, because people are coming in and out.”

Active cases in some prisons are skyrocketing to more than 100 and other prisons with one or two cases. As of Friday morning, 34 inmates and two employees had died from COVID-19.

“If you look at the vast majority of the 34 inmates that have passed away, they’re in one of our vulnerable populations,” Dunn said.

Katie Glenn with the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund says the state needs to do a better job testing inmates.

“So when you have overcrowded prisons that are also understaffed, there is no way to keep people safe from a virus that transmits when people are just too close together,” Glenn said.

The department will begin testing all inmates in facilities that house large numbers of medically vulnerable inmates.

ADOC is also working on a plan to prioritize vaccinations with health care workers and first responders in the first round…

“That would be those who have direct contact on a daily basis with inmates and then expand out from there,” he said.

WSFA 12 News asked if ADOC would also try to prioritize inmates receiving a vaccine because they can’t always social distance.

“We’ve made public health aware of those concerns. I will say though, that our focus is on those who are providing those frontline services,” he said.

About 7,000 inmates have been tested since testing began.

Copyright 2020 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.