Families fear their loved ones won't survive COVID-19 behind bars

Posted at 7:21 AM, May 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-20 07:21:32-04

CLEVELAND — Families worry their loved ones serving prison sentences don't have a fair chance of fighting and surviving coronavirus as it continues to spread rapidly throughout Ohio facilities.

Ashley Davis hasn’t seen her brother in months.

We’ve always been one you know,” Davis said. “It’s been hard on the family and just doing things and him not being able to be here. It’s tough.”

Davis says she found out her brother tested positive for coronavirus about two weeks ago after getting a text from an unknown number.

“That was the scariest thing ever,” she said. “He’s still within the incubation period. He’s getting better though, but who’s to say he wont get it again because he’s still in the same situation he was in when he got it.”

Davis’ brother, Germain Davis, is serving a 20-year sentence for a 2014 armed robbery at the Federal Correctional Center Elkton, where nine inmates have died of COVID-19 and at least one quarter have been infected. The facility has been ordered by a federal judge to speed up the release of more than 8,000 medically vulnerable inmates. In a court order, the judge wrote the prison is making poor progress in responding to a decision from a three-judge panel earlier this month, which ordered that release after finding it was impossible to social distance in the dorm-style prison.

“I don’t really see them having a fair chance, anyone that’s in prison right now having a fair chance to be able to actually fight the virus,” Davis said. “These men did do things to get them in prison and get them in that situation, but do they deserve death over a virus that the government, the country has no control over yet? It’s not fair. It’s definitely not humane.”

More than 4,000 of the nearly 50,000 Ohio inmates have tested positive for COVID-19. According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC), at least four prison employees and 61 inmates have died.

“A prison system is not a place when it’s an open bay living where you can keep COVID out for any length of time and it’s not a place where it’s not going to spread,” said Annette Chambers-Smith, Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Chambers-Smith says the department is now following a new plan while still facing challenges with social distancing and treatment. She says oxygen concentrators have been placed in some facilities along with mobile showers to help separate inmates. In addition, she says inmates use cloth masks and rotate between the four they were given and/or made. As of now, the plan is being implemented at the Belmont Correctional Institute, which is the state’s latest hot spot. More than 200 inmates have been tested under the new strategy.

“I know there’s a lot of COVID there now, but for weeks that facility was able to keep it to one unit,” she said. “Now yes it’s going to other places but its not all happening at once. That’s about the staff doing the right things everyday.”

And when it comes to testing, she says that tests are being conducted during intake. Incoming inmates are then placed in quarantine for 14 days after the booking process is completed.

“We are testing when it is actionable testing when it helps someone testing when someone can be either quarantine safely away not put in contact with someone else or when it’s their healthcare going to be impacted.”

The ODRC will also soon begin conducting antibody testing with hopes of slowing the spread in Ohio prisons using information from results.

Meanwhile, families like the Davis’ are hoping their loved ones survive the pandemic.

“Nobody deserves a death sentence when that’s really not your sentence,” said Davis.