In the wake of a state inspection, some Massachusetts lawmakers said they are raising questions about how MCI Framingham, a state prison for women, has handled the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The recent Department of Public Health inspection found that "prisoners were properly isolated and quarantined," but not all workers at the prison were properly using personal protective equipment. The report also found that some masks used inside the Department of Correction-run facility did not fit people properly.
State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, a member of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee, said the findings from the inspection were concerning.
"If Governor Baker was truly serious about all aspects of society following public health and CDC guidelines, I think it's accurate to say that did not happen in the DOC," Eldridge said. "If everyone at the prison is not doing what they're supposed to be doing then that is going to lead to a spread of the virus."
The DPH inspection was done last month after an anonymous worker reported concerns about how the prison was dealing with the pandemic. The inspection said the state reports positive infections among prisoners and staff based on wherever the individual's home are located, which makes contact tracing difficult. The inspection found the prison was locked down in response to the virus, and that movement within the prison was restricted. It also stated that the prison was clean and hand sanitizer was available.
A statement from the Department of Correction said it has adopted the recommendations from the inspection, and there are no active cases of the coronavirus at MCI Framingham. The DOC also said it has implemented additional staff training, and that it will now report staff members' positive case results with their place of employment to help with contact tracing efforts.
The DPH said the inspection speaks for itself, and it is working with the DOC on a new law on COVID-19 reporting requirements for jails and prisons.
Earlier this month, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law that expanded the state's COVID-19 reporting requirements. Reports from DPH were then required to include the number of prisoner and correctional workers' virus infection rates and deaths from COVID-19. Previously, there was no requirement to report COVID deaths in state jails and prisons.
The available information from DPH, the DOC and the state Supreme Judicial Court contain data on the rates of infection among prisoners and correctional staff. The latest SJC report found more than 650 prisoners had been infected in state prisons and jails. The DOC said it has done universal testing in all 16 state prison facilities.
Eldridge said he hopes the new reporting law will provide a clearer picture of how the virus is affecting those behind bars.
"This was the first pandemic law that specifically referred to correctional facilities, so that is a sign that we're paying attention," Eldridge said. " This is clearly an action by the Legislature showing that we want more information than what we're getting from a SJC ruling."
According to the state's highest court, more than 1,800 prisoners have been released from state correctional facilities since the beginning of April. There have been 11 prisoner deaths related to COVID-19 reported in Massachusetts. Of those, eight were in state prisons, one was at the Essex County jail and two were inside the federal prison medical facility at Devens.
This article was originally published on June 16, 2020.
This segment aired on June 17, 2020.