PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — As coronavirus infiltrates some jails and prisons in Virginia and North Carolina, facilities are taking steps to keep inmates and staff safe.
One mother, whose son is in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail, says she’s concerned about a lack of contact from her son since the facility started isolating COVID-19-positive inmates and enacting social distancing measures for the rest of the population.
She said she hopes speaking out will encourage more clear communication from facility leaders.
There have been 46 positive coronavirus cases confirmed at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth as of Tuesday, April 28.
The jail’s interim Superintendent Christopher Walz says the breakdown of those positive cases includes 41 inmates and five staff members, two of whom are contractors.
Walz says every inmate who tested positive has been moved to designated housing areas and placed in single cells. They are being closely monitored by medical staff and have their temperatures taken twice a day.
Those who tested negative have been moved to a separate housing area where they are being monitored as well.
Here’s the timeline on COVID-19 at HRRJ:
- The first individual tested positive for the novel coronavirus on Saturday, April 18, 2020, Walz said. By Friday, April 24, a total of eight individuals tested positive.
- On Friday night, the facility received a shipment of test kits from the health department.
- On Saturday, April 25, they tested 71 individuals in the housing unit where the first person tested positive.
- By that Monday, Walz says they received the results: 30 individuals tested positive and 41 individuals tested negative. One person refused the test.
- Two contracted staff tested positive last week. One HRRJ officer tested positive as well, and an additional two over the weekend.
These numbers are concerning for those who have loved ones in the jail like Lynna Ballard.
Ballard says her son, 33-year-old Karadara Miles, normally calls her every day.
However, all that stopped last Friday and she hasn’t heard from him since.
“Is my son safe? Is he near someone that has it so he could possibly get it? It’s a lot of things going on in my mind,” Ballard said.
Walz says the jail has been placed on lockdown and the inmates have been restricted to their respective housing areas to maintain social distancing.
Ballard says she’s recently received letters from inmates explaining they don’t get to shower, have access to the canteen, or use the phone while on lockdown.
“I’m not just on this news report for my child, but for every inmate that’s over there that I’m concerned about because … this stuff is moving this fast in that jail. Y’all are not telling us anything. I want to be at rest with this,” Ballard explained.
We asked Walz about these allegations. While he confirms they’re enforcing minimal movement throughout the facility, he says canteen items are now being delivered.
He also says when inmates are coming out for showers they can make calls.
Ballard hopes telling her story will encourage better communication with family members from jail leaders.
“There’s better communication that comes out of that jail… They’re our children. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what they did. They’re being housed there, they are not there to be judged, and that’s our loved ones that [are] in there,” Ballard said.
Those who are working closely with inmates who have been quarantined are wearing full personal protective equipment, while other staffers are wearing face masks.
All employees, visitors and contractors entering the jail are required to have their temperatures taken before entering. Walz said anyone with an elevated temperature is sent home.
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