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'Feeling helpless:' Families of Washington state inmates fearful as COVID-19 numbers climb

An inmate at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen died from COVID-19 last week. This is the fourth inmate in the state to die from the virus.

MONROE, Wash. — Families of inmates in Washington state prisons are voicing their concerns as novel coronavirus cases climb.

Some of those families said the state isn’t doing enough to protect the incarcerated population.

In April, a riot broke out at the Monroe Correctional Complex over the prison’s handling of the virus after several inmates tested positive.

“I could tell you, my husband is a sweet man who’s made some mistakes, but he is my everything and I love him,” said Twyla Kill, whose husband is an inmate.

While her husband hasn’t had the virus, she said she’s fearful every day.

“Us as families out here knowing these conditions are going on, it’s very scary and we’re feeling helpless,” she explained.

Kill runs a public Facebook group called, “The Truth is Inside Out COVID-19 Prison Support Group.”

With over 800 members, the group serves as an outlet for families of people incarcerated in Washington state. They write letters to lawmakers and hold rallies demanding change to the prison system.

“Besides my own trauma behind it, I share with a lot of theirs. It’s the same for all of us. It’s very hard,” said Kill.

Last week, an inmate at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen died from COVID. This is the fourth inmate in the state to die from the virus since the start of the pandemic.

Kill said this scares her more than anything.

“I think that people should understand that these are human beings like everyone else and they have families and loved ones, and communities and the stress level for them inside and for families outside is extreme.”

As COVID-19 vaccines start arriving in Washington on Monday, according to Kill, state health officials should consider the prison population in terms of vaccine distribution.

“I isolate because I’m high risk but there are people in there that are severely high risk that have no opportunity to isolate,” she explained. “That’s the situation, and if they’re stacked on top of each other the way that they are, they should be at the top of a vaccine conversation.”

The Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) released the statement to KING 5 News on their vaccination plan:

“The Department of Corrections is in direct and ongoing communications with the Washington Department of Health regarding vaccine distribution prioritization. Agency leadership is currently working on the agency’s vaccination implementation plan and continues to work toward the goal of being able to have vaccinations available for as many staff and incarcerated individuals as possible.”

Regarding the conditions for inmates across the state, the DOC said:

“Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 are then appropriately placed on quarantine status or in medical isolation, per the Department’s COVID-19 Screening, Testing, and Infection Control Guideline, depending on whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic and are kept separate from healthy individuals. The Department is working hard to provide the best quality healthcare to all individuals in its custody.”

The DOC said it is "enhancing its efforts to fight COVID" and have "put in place several quality improvement measures since the beginning of the pandemic.”

The Washington State Department of Health said that the state has not yet released its allocation guidance past Phase 1A, which does not include inmates or corrections officers.

Kill said something needs to be done before more inmates’ lives are put at risk.

“COVID-19 remains the same. DOC has to change what they’re doing,” she said.

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