The Dane County Sheriff’s office announced yesterday that it will administer COVID-19 tests to every inmate and employee in the Dane County jail.
The decision comes after surges in new COVID-19 cases among inmates there.
Jail officials say four inmates housed in the same pod of the jail tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. After discovering the new cases, additional testing found that 12 inmates had also contracted COVID-19.
The Wisconsin National Guard will be sending one of its Mobile Specimen Collection Teams to help with testing, and testing could begin as soon as Friday.
Elise Schaffer is Public Information Officer for the Dane County Sheriff’s Office.
“The big advantage to having them come and do it is they can do a large number of tests in a short period of time and there’s a fairly quick turnaround for the results,” Schaffer said.
Schaffer says the results will take no more than a few days.
The Dane County Jail says it’s taken other measures to reduce the possibility of transmission, in part by releasing some inmates who met certain criteria. The extra space has also allowed officials to section off an entire housing pod for quarantines.
But, extra space for quarantining may not be enough to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the facility.
Anthony Delyea is a defense attorney who represents several inmates in the Dane County Jail. Delyea says he’s been contacted by one inmate, who he does not represent, who says the facility isn’t offering much in the way of treatment.
“He sent me several messages because he feels like they just basically locked him in a room and pretty much forgot about him.” Delyea said. “The difference between what a jail can provide and what a hospital should be doing is substantial. The jail medical staff just does not have the facilities for this.”
Ben Turk is a volunteer organizer with the Forum for Understanding Prisons, a nonprofit that advocates for criminal justice reform. Turk says prison officials are prioritizing easy solutions over inmates’ health.
“What’s happening in the prison system has less to do with the best way to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and more to do with whatever’s the easiest way to get this done. And that puts the majority of the consequences on the incarcerated people,” he said.