Group protest conditions at Westville Correctional Facility amidst pandemic

NOW: Group protest conditions at Westville Correctional Facility amidst pandemic

WESTVILLE, In.-- Protesters plan to gather Tuesday at noon central time at the Westville Correctional Facility.

The group wants better safety measures after an outbreak of COVID-19 cases at the prison.

The group is organizing a vehicle convoy to circle the prison.

Protestors will stay inside their vehicles that will be decorated with signs, driving around to support the safety of the inmates inside.

According the the Indiana department of corrections, 138 inmates at Westville Correctional  Facility have tested positive for COVID-19 with one death reported.

Family and friends of offenders say lack of preparedness is to blame.

“They weren’t given masks till the week after the first death. They weren’t giving any cleaning supplies they said were being given out. When they did get them, the were so watered down that it barely did anything," said Lynette. Her husband is currently serving a sentence at the Prison. 

Just over the weekend, two employees also lost the fight against the virus.

Lynette and other protesters claim a lack of medical care, lack of food, unsanitary conditions are the focus of Tuesday's protest.

The Indiana Department of Corrections sent out a press release just ahead of the protest stating the following:

Westville Correctional Facility and Warden John Galipeau would like to take this opportunity to thank staff and offenders for all their hard work during these uncertain times. As the novel coronavirus spreads across the state and country, Westville Correctional Facility is working to limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for all offenders and staff.

In the last two weeks, the Purposeful Living Units Serve (PLUS) Program and our Level one Unit WCA has focused on making face masks. Donations of material, elastic, hair ties and sewing machines are being used to make masks for each offender housed at Westville as well as all employees. The donations have come in from community members, religious groups and staff. The masks are to be worn at all times by staff, as well as offenders. 

The nearly 2,500 masks produced are just one way the facility is doing its part to flatten the curve. Medical services screens staff and offenders daily for fevers. Staff are having temperatures taken every day prior to entering the facility, and anyone who has a fever of 100 degrees or higher is sent home. Those sent home cannot return to work until they meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requirements to return to work.

Offenders who are screened and have a fever of 100 degrees are quarantined for up to 14 days for monitoring. Positive cases are isolated in a different area, pending recovery from the virus. Each unit is being staffed by the same custody officers to reduce exposure risk. 

The facility proactively took steps to social distance by offering no cross programming, temporarily canceling face-to-face visits and all volunteer programs. Offenders and staff have been tapped to clean continuously and practice social distancing during any movement. Sanitizer has been deployed in all areas and is available to all offenders and staff. 

State Health Commissioner Kris Box, M.D., FACOG, said the Indiana State Department of Health has worked closely with the Department of Correction to reduce the risk to staff and offenders and to increase testing in DOC facilities.

“We stand ready to assist in any way possible and support the social distancing and enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures being taken, as they are critical to reducing the risk of COVID-19 in congregate living settings,” Dr. Box said.
Westville administration is continuously working to find unique ways to engage the offenders. Religious services are offering weekly via videos played through the television system. Our Recreation Department is working on starter plants for our facility garden.

Warden John Galipeau stated, “Staff and offenders have shown to be resilient during these times.” Warden Galipeau continued, “The safety of our staff, offenders, and the community is our top priority. We are in this together, and we will get through this. I am proud of how well our staff, as well as the offenders, are handling this pandemic.”

Indiana Department of Corrections Chief Communications Officer, David Dursten, tells ABC57 they all want to get through the pandemic with no more loss of life and even encourage safe, legal protests.

“Whether you’re quarantined in your home as a lot o people are during the stay at home order, across the state or you’re in a correctional facility, this causes tension for everybody. We completely want people to exercise their first amendment right. They key point is that they do so legally," said Dursten.

Dursten mentions that the Indiana Department of Correction does not have general authority to release inmates early because of the pandemic, only a judge does.

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