Prison remains COVID free despite influx of new inmates
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Forty-eight inmates were pardoned in the last two weeks as the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services continues to explore measures to mitigate the potential spread of the coronavirus in the institution.
The former inmates were nearing the end of their sentences, according to Commissioner of the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services Charles Murphy.
The Department of Correctional Services has remained COVID-free since the outbreak in mid-March, despite an influx of new inmates throughout the pandemic.
Asked whether the measure was intended to assist in reducing the risk of spread of the virus in the prison facility, Murphy said: “Any release from prison reduces the population.”
He continued: “A number of persons who got pardoned over the weeks, we released such persons before the end of their sentences.
“Up to date, we are still holding fast and we haven’t had any cases.
“The persons who came in from the courts, we isolated them.
Murphy attributed the success to date to the stringent measures undergone.
This includes a discontinuation of visitation since the outbreak, with the exception of Independence Day.
According to the commissioner, the department facilitated a visiting exercise on the holiday, allowing inmates to be visited by a single relative on their choice.
Food was not permitted to be delivered, social distancing was maintained and both visitors and inmates were required to wear masks.
Following the exercise, Murphy said the visitation areas were professionally sanitized.
In recent weeks, a health team performed widespread COVID-19 testing at the facility.
None of the results were positive, according to the commissioner.
New inmates arriving at the facility, continue to be screened, tested and isolated for 14 days before being placed in the general population.
“After the 14 days have expired — of course they would have seen the doctor upon entry — and before we release them into the general population, after the expiration of the 14 days, they would have seen the doctor again,” Murphy said.
“And then, we would put them in the general population. To date, we are still holding with those protocols and so far, thank the Lord, it is working.”
The Bahamas flattened its curve around the six-week mark after the first outbreak in the country and began a phased reopening.
Murphy said yesterday the prison has also moderately eased some measures.
For example, selected and approved individuals can now top up inmates’ accounts with funds, a service that was discontinued at the onset of the outbreak.
“On any given day we would call a certain amount of persons to make the deposits,” the commissioner said.
Murphy acknowledged with new inmates continuing to come in there is an ongoing risk of exposure, but he said all measures to mitigate this outcome have been taken.
He said: “Any time persons move in and out, it poses a risk; not only with the inmates, but with the officers and so what we do is we seek to ensure that we enforce the COVID protocols as much as possible and we have a keen eye and observation for any sign or indication.”
Other jurisdictions have used early release to reduce prison populations.
Last Friday, Californian officials announced an estimated 8,000 inmates will be eligible for early release by the end of August in order to stem the COVID-19 outbreak in California’s prison system.
The result at the facility in The Bahamas is a stark contrast to other jurisdictions, including the United States, where prisons have been overrun with the virus.
In Florida, the Lowell Correctional facility, the largest women’s prison in the state with just under 1,500 inmates, emerged as a COVID-19 hotspot.
Cases at the institution rose from two on May 10 to 73 infections the following day.
As of mid-May, over 700 inmates and nearly 200 staff members tested positive for the virus across the Florida prison system.
The number of inmates who tested positive for the virus as of this month rose to nearly 2,500, according to international reports.
Meanwhile, correctional workers infected in the state have climbed to over 750.
According to international reports, 29 inmates had died from COVID-19 complications as of last Friday.
Florida, Texas and Arizona have become the new epicenters of the virus.
Two Texas prisons — Stiles Unit near Beaumont and Coffield Unit in East Texas — each have more than 670 inmates with active infections, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice — the highest counts the state has seen since the pandemic.
Outside of the two facilities, other state-run prisons and jails have seen 25 percent of their inmates with active cases.
Since March, more than 12,000 Texas prisons and 2,100 employees at dozens of facilities have confirmed infections, and at least 94 inmates have died.