Confirmed Virus Cases in Md. Prisons Jumps Over Four Days

Photo from the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Rocky Mountain Lab

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Maryland’s prison system jumped from three to 17 in four days, with 90% of new cases affecting public safety and corrections staff, state officials reported Friday.

The cases are spread out among three Maryland regions of the state penal system — Baltimore, Hagerstown and Jessup.

“Our number one concern right now is ensuring that all employees in all facilities have the proper equipment and resources needed to perform their jobs in the safest and healthiest way possible,” said AFSCME Council 3 President Patrick Moran, whose union represents most of the correctional officers. “Unfortunately, we expect this to get worse.”

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) said it will activate the DPSCS COVID-19 Response Team, which initiates a contact tracing system to determine who the infected persons may have had contact with.

“The Department’s 17 COVID-19 cases include: three (3) inmates; eight (8) contractual staff; four (4) correctional officers; and, two (2) Division of Parole and Probation employees,” according to an agency news release.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services provided a breakdown of the cases by location:

  • Jessup Correctional Institution: 8 positive cases (2 inmates; 6 contractual employees)
  • Metropolitan Transition Center in Baltimore: 2 positive cases (1 correctional officer; 1 contractual employee)
  • Jail Industries Building in Baltimore: 1 positive case (1 contractual employee)
  • Dorsey Run Correctional Facility in Jessup: 1 positive case (1 correctional officer)
  • Maryland Correctional Institution-Jessup: 1 positive case (1 correctional officer)
  • Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown: 1 positive case (1 correctional officer)
  • Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup: 1 positive case (1 inmate)
  • Division of Parole and Probation in Hagerstown: 1 positive case (1 supervisor)
  • Division of Parole and Probation in Baltimore: 1 positive case (1 agent)

Staff who have tested positive will be required to go into quarantine for a minimum of 14 days and must be medically cleared before returning to work, the agency said. Symptomatic staff who had contact with those who tested positive for COVID-19 will be removed from their workplace and directed to a medical provider. Asymptomatic staff will be monitored.

Inmates who tested positive for the virus will be monitored in isolation for a minimum of 14 days, the agency added. Symptomatic inmates who had direct contact with positive cases will be isolated, tested for the virus and monitored. Asymptomatic inmates who had close contact with positive cases will be quarantined and monitored.

State officials say they have “robust emergency plans” in place to deal with an outbreak of the coronavirus in prisons and jails.

“The Department plans on utilizing existing structural areas within the correction system for alternative/modified housing in the event of an outbreak,” Public Safety spokesman Mark Vernarelli said this week.

A 24-hour hotline is also being set up so family members and loved ones of detainees and inmates can call to have medical questions answered for those affected by the coronavirus, Vernarelli said.

“Once operational, the hotline will be listed on the Department’s public website,” Vernarelli said “[This] will strictly be a COVID-19 hotline. No PIN will be required.”

Maryland housed nearly 19,000 inmates last year. The state operates 20 correctional institutions that house inmates.

Correctional officers and prison staff fear protections in place to prevent the spread or contraction of the coronavirus are not strong enough, but state officials say they are following federal and state guidelines.

Union officials and corrections staff fear a current shortage of workers will only be exacerbated by the virus.

“The Department’s number one priority is the safety and health of its employees and the inmates in its custody,” the Friday news release said. “DPSCS continues to seek direction and guidance from its health authorities, the Maryland Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.”

Glynis Kazanjian is a freelance writer. She can be contacted at [email protected] Danielle E. Gaines of Maryland Matters contributed to this report.