Coronavirus testing increases in West Virginia jails and prisons

West Virginia is under way with the coronavirus testing of inmates and staff across the corrections system.

Gov. Jim Justice promised comprehensive testing in the corrections system last week after an outbreak was identified at the Huttonsville Correctional Center in Randolph County.

One hundred nineteen cases have been confirmed out of 1,093 inmates at Huttonsville through today. That included 21 cases listed as recoveries.

Seven of the eight employees there are considered recovered, Justice said today.

“Everything thus far from the Huttonsvile spike that we got in such a dramatic way, and everything, is moving in the direction we want it to move,” Justice said. “We want all these people to recover.”

That all started with one positive result that led to broader testing at the facility. State officials had earlier reserved testing in the corrections system for those with the symptoms of covid-19.

Within the past day, testing has picked up significantly.

The state Department of Health and Human Resources showed 511 tests at the Eastern Regional Jail in Berkeley County, most of which were still pending.

There were 96 tests at the Martinsburg Correctional Center, also in Berkeley County, with most still pending.

And there were another 18 tests at the Vicki V. Douglas Juvenile Facility, also in Berkeley County. All were pending.

Justice said testing in the Eastern Panhandle facilities could conclude today.

Elsewhere in the state, there were 42 tests at the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville.

That effort still left hundreds of tests for West Virginia’s prisons, jails and juvenile corrections centers. Justice said that could conclude by June 12.

A coalition of groups around West Virginia had urged greater testing in correctional facilities.

Today, some of them said they were pleased by the current effort but indicated more must be done.

Jason Huffman

“We’re pleased that Governor Justice is increasing testing for incarcerated individuals and we hope to see this progress continue,” stated Jason Huffman, state director for Americans for Prosperity, West Virginia.

“This testing will help safeguard the incarcerated who lack the freedom to protect themselves from covid-19, as well as correctional personnel, and surrounding communities that prison outbreaks affect.”

Huffman added, “A jail sentence should not become a death sentence due to lack of action by the state. We look forward to working with policymakers to continue enacting smart- on-crime and soft-on-taxpayers reforms that make communities whole and protect public safety.”

Seth DiStefano

It’s impossible to separate the effects of virus spread on incarcerated populations from surrounding communities, said Seth DiStefano, policy outreach director for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

“Between May 19 and May 26, 537 West Virginians were newly jailed, and corrections officers and staff come in and out of facilities every day,” DiStefano stated.

“We must complete testing with the same speed and concern with which we tested our state’s nursing homes so thoroughly, and we must stop jailing people who do not pose imminent safety threats.”

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