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Health, Science & Environment

Families Of Inmates Worried After New Outbreak At Utah State Prison

A photo of the Utah Department of Corrections building.
Emily Means
/
KUER
The Utah Department of Corrections reported another COVID-19 outbreak at the state prison. Officials said they’re concerned because the outbreak has impacted a unit where the medically vulnerable population stays.

The families of people incarcerated at the Utah State Prison met Monday to protest the Utah Department of Corrections’ handling of COVID-19 outbreaks.

The corrections department recently announced a second COVID-19 outbreak at the state prison.

On Friday, Mike Haddon, executive director at the Department of Corrections, said the prison was on lockdown after inmates tested positive, especially in one specific unit.

“We are deeply concerned about this latest outbreak,” Haddon said. “Oquirrh 5 is where our most medically vulnerable individuals are housed, and we’ve taken great precautions in that unit since March of this year.”

A photo of  Debbie Rivera, Stephanie Giles and two children.
Emily Means
Debbie Rivera, left, and Stephanie Giles, center, are part of a family support group with the Utah Prisoner Advocate Network. The group has been discussing their loved ones’ experiences during the COVID-19 outbreaks at the prison.

Stephanie Giles said during the first outbreak a couple weeks ago, her fiance was housed with COVID-19 positive inmates. He wasn’t moved until three weeks later.

“He ended up catching COVID-19 after a three week period of being around other inmates who had caught it,” Giles said. “That’s one of the biggest concerns that we’re here for. We want to make sure they have the proper testing, [personal protective equipment] as well as isolating inmates who are infected, possibly infected and not infected.”

In a statement, the Department of Corrections said they are working to separate positive cases from negative ones.

Families also want to see expanded criteria for early release. Debbie Rivera said her daughter is scheduled to leave the prison in April. She applied for early release and was denied.

“They should release some of the inmates that aren’t a threat to society that are close to getting out,” Rivera. “They’re like sitting ducks in there.”

Brett Varoz with the Board of Pardons said the board has canceled some hearings due to the outbreak, citing transportation restrictions at the prison.

“If they can't get [inmates] in front of a video for an appearance or actually to the boardroom, then we've had to cancel them, and we are working to reschedule those as quickly as we can,” Varoz said.

As of Saturday, there were 97 active COVID-19 cases at the state prison in Draper.

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