Alabama's department of corrections is preparing for widespread COVID-19 casualties and mass riots inside jails and prisons that may take calling in the National Guard to put down.
Alabama’s prisons are underprepared to prevent and manage the spread of COVID-19, prompting a worst-case scenario plan that could call on the National Guard to work in the prisons should the virus take hold in the system, according to an internal Department of Corrections document obtained by AL.com.
The 263-page planning document states that the physical design of Alabama's prisons, severe overcrowding and understaffing combine to make it impossible to follow recommended protocols for keeping prisoners and employees from contracting the coronavirus.
In the worst-case scenario outlined in the plan, system-wide shortfalls could result in widespread infection, the need for military intervention and nearly 200 inmate deaths. And the plan shows that the department anticipates that it may need to spend more than $2 million on supplies to respond to the pandemic, including personal protective equipment, medication and body bags.
AL.com obtained a copy of the document, dubbed 2020 Pandemic Continuity of Operations Plan, on Thursday, the same day some officials first received it via email. The document was dated April 1 and signed on that date by Ruth Naglich, the department’s associate commissioner for health services.
Inmates and their families, correctional officers, attorneys, journalists and other stakeholders have been asking the department about the impact of coronavirus on the state prison system and its nearly 22,000 inmates for weeks. Epidemiologists, professors and other experts have been ringing alarm bells about the need for Alabama and other states with overcrowded prisons to take swift, decisive action to keep coronavirus from spreading behind bars and killing large numbers of prisoners.
In a telephone call Friday night, DOC Commissioner Jefferson Dunn said he and the department he runs are doing everything in their power to avoid such a result in Alabama.
"The number one thing in my mind is safety, is trying our best to prevent the virus from getting into the facilities, and then mitigating the impact," he said.
But the DOC has provided little in the way of information about how it is managing the crisis, beyond three written statements since March 19 that failed to address many concerns about its coronavirus response. The DOC planning document was dated nearly two weeks after Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency in response to coronavirus on March 13, the same day her office released a statement about Alabama’s first confirmed COVID-19 case.
The department says that none of its prisoners have been diagnosed with COVID-19. It recently posted a chart on its website detailing the amount of testing for the virus that has been undertaken in its facilities. The chart showed that only 17 state prisoners had been tested for the virus as of Tuesday. Twelve of those tests came back negative and the results of the other five were still pending, according to the chart.
The department, which operates more than two dozen correctional facilities across the state, reported on Wednesday that two of its employees had tested positive for coronavirus as of that date.
The planning document characterizes prisoners as being at “Very High” risk of being exposed to the disease and says it is “unrealistic to assume cases of COVID-19 will not be found within one or more ADOC facilities.”
This worst-case scenario is already beginning to materialize inside NYC's infamous Rikers Island prison.
A Rikers Island inmate became the first prisoner based in New York to die from COVID-19 Sunday.
The 53-year-old convict passed away at Bellevue Hospital after he was transferred from the infamous Big Apple facility, said the New York Post, citing a statement from Department of Corrections spokesperson Peter Thorne.
Thorne extended the Department's condolences to the inmate's family, adding that their number priority is still the “safety and well-being of those in custody.”
The New York Times pointed that an anonymous official said the inmate had been sentenced on Rikers Island since February 28 before he was transferred to the said hospital on March 26.
As of Sunday, at least 273 inmates, 321 correction employees and 52 healthcare workers have tested positive for COVID-19. Four corrections employees have died since, according to the outlet.
New York City officials have released at least 200 inmates in order to slow down the spread of the virus among detainees, most of which are crammed inside prison blocks.
America's prison system is going to be absolute hell soon, and wouldn't you know it, more black people are going to die from systemic racism in the US, too.