2 staffers test positive for Covid-19, says sheriff’s office

Immigrant detainees continue to be released daily by judge

TWO STAFF MEMBERS from the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office have tested positive for COVID-19 as a federal judge continued to release more immigrant detainees from the Bristol House of Correction out of concern for the virus’s spread.

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson said a K-9 officer and correctional officer have tested positive. Both have been out of the work since late March. Hodgson’s office said the K-9 officer had no contact with detainees or inmates.

“They have some minor symptoms,” said Hodgson, adding that both employees report that overall “they’re feeling OK. That’s very encouraging.”

The officers are the second and third staff members connected to the sheriff’s office to have tested positive for COVID-19. A nurse from a contracted medical vendor previously tested positive for the virus and has since recovered and been cleared to return to work this week.

Hodgson’s office said that employees have been given masks to be worn inside the facility, and that masks for inmates and detainees have been ordered and are expected to arrive by the end of the week. The office said disinfecting of the prison by inmates has increased, and all staff members are being screened before entering the facility, as are newly arriving detainees. In-person visits to inmates have been suspended for almost a month.

The announcement of staff infections came as US District Court Judge William Young continues to release immigrant detainees held under the jurisdiction of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement at Bristol County House of Correction. As a result of litigation brought by Lawyers for Civil Rights against ICE, Young is weighing the release of 10 individuals a day, and has released a total of 18 so far. That number is expected to go up.

Thirty detainees still in custody have sent letters to the Hodgson, the Massachusetts congressional delegation, the Department of Public Health, and ICE asking for release due to overcrowding at the facility and the inability of detainees to meet coronavirus social distancing guidelines recommending that people remain at least six feet apart.

Young verified their claims through photographs and by viewing floors plans of the facility.

Last week, Young ordered that released detainees be picked up by car and taken to an approved residence where they will be quarantined for 14 days, and remain under house arrest unless they have court hearings or medical appointments. Local authorities and state police will be made aware of their new addresses.

Not all the individuals being released fall within the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions high-risk categories, making this one of the first times that a court responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has ordered humanitarian release of immigrant detainees not based on individualized medical risk factors.

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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.

At least three individuals have died in correctional facilities in the Commonwealth. Prison advocates have asked for the release of more inmates and detainees, at the very least to house arrest.

Hodgson has voiced strong opposition to the release orders. “My position has been and remains that everyone – inmates, ICE detainees, people in the community – are more safe during this national epidemic when those ordered behind bars by a judge remain incarcerated,” he said last week.