COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — The Colorado Department of Corrections has implemented numerous changes to protect employee and inmate safety amid the Coronavirus pandemic. Three inmates and at least eight employees have tested positive for COVID-19.
"We've been preparing for it, and the good news is, I think we have a system that is very well and healthy to begin with; that's helpful," said Dean Williams, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections. "The bad news, though, is that it's behind the prison walls now."
The inmates who are sick are all serving time at Sterling Correctional Facility in northeastern Colorado where they are being treated in isolation. A total of 27 inmates were tested for the virus but most came back negative. Two still awaiting results.
Physical separation is hard to achieve inside of a prison, and Colorado's prison were near capacity when the outbreak began. New executive orders have reduced the overall number of inmates by temporarily halting new arrivals from county jails and speeding up release for some high-risk inmates. Williams calls it a balancing act.
"These folks still go to the parole board, but he's allowed us to loosen the criteria a bit for people toward the end of their sentence who have profound medical needs, profound medical issues, their mortality rate if they have the virus is not 2 or 3 percent, it's 10 percent, 15 percent."
The DOC is also moving its intake facility for all new prisoners to the Centennial Correctional Facility South in Canon City where offenders will be kept in quarantine for a minimum period of 14 days. Williams said the measures have reduced capacity in the prison system from more than 99 percent down to about 94.5 percent.
Inside prisons today, offenders are split into smaller groups during meals and recreation time. All in-person visits have been suspended. The Department made arrangements with its telephone vendor to give inmates an additional free phone call per week. They will also receive one free video visit per week. Attorneys can make non-contact legal visits through video conferencing.
At Sterling, where the virus is active, the restrictions are more severe. Meals are brought to cells with no inmate movement during the day.
Williams said the same groups of guards are monitoring the same inmates from day to day in order to reduce personal contact.
"I've been in this business a bit and you must prepare for the worst and you have to look down the road and you have to say, what happens if this goes from 3 to 300," he said. "How do we manage that?"
Click here for the latest update on the number of cases, the age, gender and location of presumptive positive, indeterminate and confirmed cases from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.