TEXAS (KETK) – As the pandemic spreads throughout the country, prisons have quickly become the epicenters of the crisis.
In Texas, more than 230 people have died from COVID-19 in correctional facilities and county jails. As of this writing, a new report reveals 80% were never convicted of a crime.
While that’s not the case for all inmates, the numbers can be frightening for families like Breanna Washington.
“He’s been in prison a total of 26 years, he’s been at Beto for about 24 months now,” said Washington.
Her husband, Mark Garner, is serving life in prison, housed in the Beto Unit in Anderson County. While his sentence was life changing, Washington says he wasn’t sentenced to death.
“He’s been there since he was 19, and to be 45 years old and writing saying that you hope you don’t die in there,” explained Washington.
Washington will look forward to every letter she receives and getting updates on her husbands health. In one letter he wrote, there are “new cases everyday,” and he’s doing his best “to stay safe.”
More Texas inmates and staff have been infected and killed by COVID-19 than any other state criminal justice system.
“The levels of infection, sickness, and death in Texas are far more than anywhere else in the country and completely unacceptable,” said Rick Levy, President of the AFL-CIO.
Levy said that one of his worries is that the rate of infection could grow if more precautions aren’t put in place.
“The lives that are being affected by in that way, on that scale, and to have such a colossal failure of our system is, I was really saddened by it, I really was,” explained Levy.
It’s not just inmates. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice reports more than 65,000 employees have been tested. As of November 13, more than 6,000 have tested positive.
“Imagine walking into a facility every day where you know, you know, that this virus is running rampant and yet you have to be there, you have a job to do, and these folks are showing up,” said Levy.
Jeremy Desel, with the TDCJ, says the UT study doesn’t show the whole picture. In a statement given to KETK, Desel said, “what is noticeably absent is a discussion of the TDCJ’s first in the nation, sustained, and aggressive mass asymptomatic testing campaign.”
The UT study also revealed some inmates died without being tested, others died without being tested, while others died from pre-existing conditions worsened by the virus.
Full statement from TDCJ:
From the beginning of the pandemic, the Texas Department of Criminal (TDCJ) has taken numerous steps to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within correctional facilities. Those robust measures continue today.Jeremy Desel
While this report attempts to capture the impact of the virus on the prison population, what is noticeably absent is a discussion of the TDCJ’s first in the nation, sustained, and aggressive mass asymptomatic testing campaign. To date, more than 65,000 employee and 219,000 inmate tests have been carried out. This is far more than any other correctional system in the country.The intention of our wide-scale testing is to identify positive asymptomatic individuals and take appropriate action. When someone is diagnosed, TDCJ’s medical partners, the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) and Texas Tech University Health Science Center (TTUHSC), provide a high level of care to those struggling with this illness. Most inmates have little to no symptoms and recover, but tragically some have succumbed to COVID-19. As reflected in Texas’ general population, most of these individuals were elderly and had numerous pre-existing conditions. Unlike many states, a thorough review of each inmate’s death is conducted to include an autopsy or medical review by doctors to determine if the virus was the immediate cause of death.
As the country and state continue to battle COVID-19, the men and women of TDCJ, UTMB, and TTUHSC will continue to do all that they can to prevent and mitigate the spread of this virus.
TDCJ Director of Communications