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1st Mass. Prisoner Diagnosed With COVID-19

A Massachusetts prisoner has been diagnosed with COVID-19, the state's first reported case involving a prisoner.

A Department of Correction press release said the man was diagnosed Friday and is now in quarantine in his cell at the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater. The facility houses more than 500 men criminally sentenced as sex offenders, and those who have been civilly committed and deemed sexually dangerous.

The DOC said the man, who is serving a life sentence, has been separated from his cellmate, who is not showing symptoms. The diagnosed prisoner is getting medical treatment through Wellpath, the prison's health care provider.

There are "no other positive COVID-19 cases reported within the inmate population at this time," a press release said. It said all "outgoing/incoming inmates are being surveyed related to COVID-19 contact or symptoms."

The DOC said it has established a response plan to the pandemic and has dedicated staff members trained in the prevention and containment of infectious disease. The Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union said all Bridgewater staff are now required to wear protective equipment. Each of the state's 16 DOC facilities are following state and federal health guidelines and taking steps to improve hygiene and encourage physical distancing, the union said.

Family and friend visits have been suspended at all prisons, but attorney visits are allowed.

Prisoner rights advocates are calling for a reduction in the number of people incarcerated to try to stem the spread of the disease in correctional facilities.

"This should come as no surprise and hopefully it is a wake up call to anyone and everyone who is still thinking that additional cleaning supplies and cutting off visits is going to keep people who live and work in our prisons and jails safe," said Lizz Matos, executive director of Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts. "It is simply irresponsible to not take aggressive measures right away to prevent the spread of this virus, and first and foremost to release the sick and elderly before they succumb to COVID-19."

A group statement signed by three Massachusetts district attorneys last week said COVID-19 can easily spread in correctional facilities, where many people have chronic health issues and may not be able to effectively isolate. Maintaining strict hygiene can also be difficult, the statement said.

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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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