Since the start of COVID-19, our FOCUS team has been investigating conditions at correctional facilities statewide. State officials now say the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women is in the middle of a COVID-19 outbreak, and they’re taking action to prevent the spread.
“The beds there, what we’ve heard, are four feet apart. Sometimes in dorms where you might have 16 people sleeping together in one room," said Aaron Tucek, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.
They’re conditions that will only hasten the spread of COVID-19, according to Tucek.
“We believe it’s a very dangerous situation," he said.
Yesterday, his colleagues at the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky filed a lawsuit on behalf of seven people at a state prison in Pewee Valley: the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women, or KCIW.
“They have things like very severe asthma, heart problems, lung problems, HIV, cystic fibrosis," said Tucek.
The lawsuit, against Kentucky’s Department of Corrections and the prison’s warden, state’s the seven women are “at great risk of contracting COVID-19, and experiencing severe illness and possibly even death as a result, unless they are removed from their current situation and allowed to social distance…”
“And that’s simply not KCIW," he said.
J. Michael Brown, secretary of Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s Executive Cabinet, has said so far, three staff and 11 inmates at the state prison have tested positive.
“First good news, no one is hospitalized from KCIW," said Brown.
He said they’ve learned lessons from the rapid spread of coronavirus at Green River Correctional Complex. While three inmates there who tested positive died, about 94 percent of the 417 people who tested positive have recovered.
“We’ve got testing, we’ve got masks, we’ve got sanitizer, we even have some foot protection," he said.
For those most vulnerable, reflected in the lawsuit, Tucek said social distancing is simply not possible behind bars.
“These women don’t have any room to spare. Their lives are in danger because of COVID 19," he said.
So far, state officials said about 300 people at KCIW been tested for COVID-19, and by the end of the week everyone will be tested. Attorneys behind the lawsuit said releasing the most medically vulnerable inmates to allow for social distancing must also be part of the plan.