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Mass. Prisoners Are Not Routinely Tested For The Coronavirus When Released

Despite the spread of the coronavirus in Massachusetts jails and prisons, some prisoners released during the pandemic have not been tested for the virus before they were let out.

Three men recently released from the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater, where five prisoners have died from COVID-19, tell WBUR they were not tested before their release. Two of the men released have since tested positive for the virus.

"I'm not sure if I got it from somebody in prison," said one of the men, who spoke to WBUR on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize his future housing and employment. "Perhaps that's where I contracted something and just brought it out."

The man is now recovering at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, where a field hospital has been set up to care for people who are homeless who contract the disease. He plans to go from there an area homeless shelter.

MTC holds men convicted of sex crimes and men civilly committed to sex offender treatment after they have completed their criminal sentences. The three men who spoke with WBUR were released after two state psychologists determined they were no longer sexually dangerous. They were not let out because of the pandemic.

The state Department of Correction says all prisoners approaching release are only tested for the virus if they have risk factors such as age, exposure and symptoms.

"They basically kick you out to the street," said another man released from the MTC, also recovering from COVID-19, who didn't want his name used so as not to risk his future housing. "They weren't taking many precautions inside. There were no masks, nothing was cleaned, guys were just locked in their cells for more than 23 hours a day."

Because of the pandemic, most state prisons are in lockdown, meaning the majority of prisoners are allowed out of their cells for about 30 minutes a day. State corrections officials say the department has increased cleaning, provided more protective equipment, banned visitors and is screening all those coming into prisons.

The DOC has started mobile testing of prisoners at some facilities. At MCI-Shirley, the state's medium and minimum security facility, there are now 106 prisoners who are positive for the virus, out of 245 men tested there. That's the highest number of prisoners testing positive in any state correctional facility. The DOC says it has plans in place to isolate those prisoners who test positive.

Two prisoners at Shirley have died from COVID-19.

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Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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