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As Prisons See Drop In Cases, Another Man Imprisoned In Mass. Has Died Of COVID-19

In the past two months, coronavirus cases in Massachusetts prisons dropped sharply as vaccines were made available to those inside state correctional facilities.

One prisoner died of COVID-19 last week, according to the state Department of Correction. The man was in his 80s and in custody at Bridgewater State Hospital, according to the DOC. The agency said he had been hospitalized since January before his death at Lemuel Shattuck Hospital on March 19.

He was the 21st Massachusetts prisoner to die of COVID-19; two people held at county jails in the state also have died in the pandemic.

As of Wednesday, the DOC said there were three active cases of the virus inside state prisons: two at MCI-Norfolk and another at MCI-Framingham. Separately, two prisoners are being treated at hospitals for the virus. The state does not release details on which state facilities prisoners transferred to hospitals were being held.

Data on vaccine distribution in state prisons showed that vaccine hesitancy may be an issue among both prisoners and correctional staff.

The most recent report from the state Supreme Judicial Court indicated that since the state started administering coronavirus vaccines in correctional facilities in January, more than 3,000 correctional staff and 2,000 prisoners have refused the vaccine. However, the number reflecting staff totals does not specify whether a vaccine was refused because a worker received a shot elsewhere outside a prison.

More than 4,000 of the 6,400 prisoners in DOC custody have been vaccinated, the report said. It added that 2,600 vaccines were administered to DOC staff.

As for county jails, the report said more than 3,000 workers refused the vaccine; another 1,600 people held in county jails. Although the refusal information is incomplete for some of the state's largest county jails, including Essex, Middlesex and Suffolk.

The DOC said it has performed 31,700 coronavirus tests since the pandemic began and department-wide testing continues. Various COVID-19 rules in state prisons, such as restrictions on visitations, remain in place.

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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