Marion Correctional Institution
The Warden of Marion Correctional Institution, Lyneal Wainwright, informed inmates in an email Wednesday that two additional officers at the Ohio prison had tested positive for COVID-19.
The news arrived in inmates' JPay inboxes less than three days after they'd learned that one of the Lieutenants there had tested positive for the virus. It was the first confirmed case among staffers or inmates in the Ohio prison system.
That first confirmed case sounded alarm bells for criminal justice advocates and family members of current inmates, who alerted Scene that the virus was, in all likelihood, rapidly spreading at Marion. The facility is Level 2, or minimum security, prison where inmates congregate in large groups often and sleep in bunks with 120-200 men to a dorm.
“It’s physically impossible to isolate,” the wife of one current inmate told Scene this week. “When they go into the day room, there’s no way. The phones aren’t even six feet apart. You can't socially distance.”
The virus was expected to spread among staff. The Lieutenant who tested positive worked in multiple areas of the prison and, according to a press release from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, last worked a shift at Marion on March 24.
Gov. Mike DeWine said Monday that nine officers had been asked to quarantine as part of a trace investigation, and four were exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
Now that two additional officers have tested positive, the inmates are getting uneasy, a prison advocate named Candace Hudson told Scene. Hudson runs an organization called Understand Before You Judge and has been communicating with multiple inmates at Marion via JPay emails.
"The main concern is that there is no social distancing," she said, summarizing inmate comments to Scene. "Their beds are less than three feet apart and the men are piled on top of each other, especially in the chow hall. [The Warden is] telling them to continue to wash their hands but they aren’t being provided soap, and not everyone can afford to purchase soap at the commissary. Visibly sick prisoners are not being taken to medical or quarantined. Staff are not addressing their concerns or taking proper precautions. Approximately 14 new staff came in and were shaking the guys down and touching their property."
Azzurra Crispino, the founder of a prison support organization who spoke to Scene previously and whose husband at Marion has four months left to serve, said that inmates have now been given cloth masks, which are optional to wear. She said her husband told her that multiple corrections officers were beginning to display symptoms, and that if enough staffers test positive, at least one officer has said that staff will stop coming in and the facility will be forced to operate under stricter lockdown.
In spite of clear indications of the coronavirus' spread, systematic testing—or any
testing—among the inmate population doesn't appear to have started at Marion. Neither Warden Wainwright nor a spokesperson for ODRC responded to multiple questions about the latest confirmed cases and additional testing Wednesday.
In previous similar communications, an ODRC spokesperson reiterated the department's safety protocols, which include closing off facilities to visitors, volunteers and some contract workers, and directed Scene to its daily updates
As of Wednesday afternoon, a total of 27 inmates had been tested statewide, an average of exactly one inmate per prison. Twenty-five of those tests have come back negative. Two are pending.
Wainwright did not mention testing in her brief JPay email to Marion inmates. After informing them that the two staffers who'd tested positive were "doing well," she said that various concerns about the prison commissary and ARAMARK-provided meals were being addressed.
"Please continue to practice handwashing and focus on social distancing," the message concluded. "I will keep you updated as information becomes available."
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