2 prisoners test positive at MCI-Norfolk

Inmates isolated; facility-wide testing initiated

TWO PRISONERS  have tested positive for the novel coronavirus at MCI-Norfolk, a medium security prison in Norfolk, Massachusetts.

Officials said the inmates tested positive in the past week and were immediately isolated to a separate part of the facility, where they and are receiving medical care.  Their close contacts have been tested.

To reduce the opportunity for transmission, the Department of Correction placed the inmates’ housing unit in quarantine, ordered facility-wide testing, and temporarily suspended in-person visitation for family and friends.

“The Department of Correction’s focus remains on the health and safety of those entrusted to our care as we continue strategic testing department-wide, consistent with DPH guidance, to ensure that any new cases are identified Strategic testing, is testing of people who are symptomatic for COVID-19.

There have been much larger outbreaks at other prison facilities in October. At the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center in Plymouth, 28 of the 97 men tested positive. At the Middleton Jail in Essex County, there were 143 cases out of a population of around 900.

Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, which represents some of the prisoners at MCI-Norfolk, said the state should be releasing inmates during the pandemic.

“There are still concerns about elderly, medically vulnerable prisoners,” she said. “It’s pretty widely known the incarcerated population is medically compromised, and disproportionally poor, black, and brown and suffering from health equity issues.”

Eight state prisoners have died over the course of the pandemic. Two have died in county facilities.

The Norfolk prison skews older in age than the most of the other state prisons.

According to the Department of Corrections’ Institutional Fact Cards, most recently published in July, the average age for an MCI-Norfolk prisoner is 47-years-old, tying in second with NCCI-Gardner, and Massachusetts Treatment Center at 50.

The youngest inmate at the facility is 19, and the oldest, 89. Over 72 percent of the population has sentences of 15 years to life. Advocates have previously sued to release, to house arrest, older prisoners with preexisting conditions, who are known to have greater risk for contracting the virus.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

“There are still concerns about elderly, medically vulnerable prisoners,” said Matos.

For the first few months of the pandemic, several DOC facilities sustained a high rate of COVID-19 infections among prisoners, twice the statewide average at one point. At MCI-Framingham, for example, 26 of the 198 prisoners, or 13 percent of the inmates, had COVID-19 on April 17. There are now no prisoners with COVID-19 at MCI-Framingham according to figures reported to the Supreme Judicial Court.

The Department of Correction has been conducting testing more aggressively since an April decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court required the metric to be included in weekly reports to the court. To date, more than 10,300 COVID-19 tests have been conducted across DOC facilities, which collectively house about 6,800 people.