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‘You Can’t Treat Us Like Animals’: Former Inmate Describes Experience At Utah Prison During COVID-19

Utah State Prison Draper Watchtower
ChrisBoswell/Getty Images/iStockphoto
As of Nov. 25, the Utah Department of Corrections has reported nine deaths related to COVID-19.

Jeromy Tait weathered two COVID-19 outbreaks while incarcerated at the Utah State Prison.

“In the first outbreak, we were just locked down 22 hours a day,” Tait said. “We got out every day for two hours. That was pretty hard, going from being out of your cell all day to being locked down.”

Tait, 31, is back home in Kanab after spending 10 years at the prison in Draper. He was released a little more than two weeks ago and tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after.

The Utah Department of Corrections has reported nine deaths related to the disease at the state prison as of Nov. 25 and 560 active cases at corrections facilities statewide.

Tait said he wishes the Department of Corrections had been more transparent.

“That’s another thing — the anxiety and the unknown,” he said. “They lock us down. They're very secretive. We have to call out to the streets and have our people call in to find out what's going on.”

Kaitlin Felsted, a spokesperson for the department, said they regularly provide COVID-19 information to incarcerated people through a newsletter.

“Our staff continue to do an incredible job of sharing updated information, while also being considerate of each individual's private medical information,” Felsted said.

Tait said not being able to visit with his loved ones took a toll on his mental health. In-person visitation was put on hold at the beginning of the pandemic, and Felsted said the corrections department is still working to get video visits up and running.

Tait said a phone call just isn’t enough.

“It still [doesn’t] supplement that contact, being able to hug your family and being able to see them,” he said. “The emotional impact that has on inmates, especially inmates that are there for life, that's horrible.”

He said he understands the corrections staff is stressed, but he hopes the department has more empathy going forward.

“We are inmates, and we have done something wrong,” he said. “We're in there to pay our debt to society. But the fact being that you can't treat us like animals, it's not right.”

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