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Dozens Of Prisoners At MCI-Norfolk Have Tested Positive For COVID-19

MCI-Norfolk is the largest medium security level facility in Massachusetts. Almost 200 coronavirus cases were reported among its population earlier this month. (Michael Norton/SHNS)
MCI-Norfolk is the largest medium security level facility in Massachusetts. Almost 200 coronavirus cases were reported among its population earlier this month. (Michael Norton/SHNS)

Prison officials say coronavirus testing continues at MCI-Norfolk after an outbreak at the prison last week. Prisoners and attorneys say dozens of men held at Norfolk have tested positive for the virus.

It's the third outbreak at a state correctional facility since the end of September.

The state Department of Correction started widespread testing Oct. 27 after two prisoners tested positive for the virus. As of Friday, the DOC said 24 more prisoners were confirmed positive. The DOC says the prisoners have been moved to a quarantine area and are receiving medical treatment at the prison. It says no one has required hospitalization. The department has suspended in-person visits from family and friends at Norfolk.

MCI-Norfolk is a medium security facility that houses more than 1,200 men and some of the state's elderly prisoners. The oldest prisoner at Norfolk is 87 years old.

Some Norfolk prisoners say the number of prisoners testing positive has skyrocketed and the facility is essentially locked down. They say they have limited access to cleaning supplies, soap and hand sanitizer.

"Staff here do not consistently wear masks and they do not have to be tested," said a Norfolk prisoner, who does not want to be identified because he fears retaliation, in an email. "There is no doubt that this lockdown is punitive due to staff infecting inmates."

The DOC says widespread testing continues at Norfolk and it will have more test results this week. The department also says it conducts strategic testing across all facilities, and tests symptomatic prisoners and their close contacts. Testing is offered to correctional staff, but is not required.

The latest weekly report from the state Supreme Judicial Court showed that 476 DOC prisoners have tested positive for the virus and more than 10,700 tests had been administered to those incarcerated. The DOC says there are currently 38 active coronavirus cases among state prisoners.

Recent outbreaks have been reported at two other correctional facilities. The Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center in Plymouth halted admissions of men civilly committed to addiction treatment in early October after an outbreak. Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger suspended visits at the Middleton jail after a COVID-19 outbreak there at the end of September.

Since the pandemic began, eight prisoners in state custody and two men held in county jails 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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