How much COVID-19 testing is being done inside Virginia prisons

Posted at 4:21 PM, Sep 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-03 17:43:14-04

CHESAPEAKE, Va. - For months, News 3 has been looking into how Virginia correctional facilities are handling COVID-19 testing and care for those incarcerated.

Families claim there isn't enough proper testing and social distancing, while the Virginia Department of Corrections said they follow guidance from the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.

Every day, staff members are expected to fill out a spreadsheet about what's happening inside each prison. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, News 3 obtained those spreadsheets from the end of July to August.

There is data on the cumulative number of tests given to inmates and staff, how many tests are sent to the VDH or other lab entities within 24 hours, how many come back positive, how many people have died, how many are recovering and so on.

Shanita Hatcher's father is one of the men who has been tested. From Newport News, he's serving his time at the Greensville Correctional Center.

"He doesn't have a death sentence at the end of the day, so we're trying to make sure he's in safe hands while he's doing his time, you know, to get him back home," she told News 3 reporter Erin Miller via phone.

News 3 analyzed internal testing data from April 1, 2020 to August 12, 2020.

During those four months, VADOC reports 30,760 tests were given to those incarcerated and staff members. Our latest data shows that the Eastern Region, which includes like facilities like St. Brides and Indian Creek in Chesapeake, tested the most inmates.

Since April, of the 13,487 recorded tests done, 1,366 came back positive.

Hatcher said that her father's cellmate was reportedly one of the people who tested positive. "He said that they had sent [the men who tested positive] down to a pod for a week, [then] the staff had brought them back up to the pod. My father had asked, 'What were they sending them back up there for when they're still showing signs?'"

We've also heard directly from those on the inside. News 3's Erin Miller has received pages of letters claiming "negligence and inhumane treatment."

A Virginia DOC spokesperson, however, said that they follow CDC guidance when it comes to maintaining the facility during a pandemic and quarantining incarcerated people. The CDC website cites the standard 14 days.

It's also outlined that each facility is different and therefore protocol may vary at each prison. However, we're told temperature screenings and symptom checks are also a standard practice.

Hatcher, and other families, dispute that.

"I would like for them to keep, you know, everybody that's negative, negative, and the positive people in the pod until they get better," Hatcher said.

As of Thursday, the DOC's website reported 144 active cases among the 44 facilities across the state. Point prevalence testing is also being done in prisons, according to VADOC, which means they are testing all staff and offenders.

Our data shows that St. Brides completed testing between 6/9/20 - 6/10/20 and again between 7/17/20 - 7/21/20.

Indian Creek was tested between 6/4/20 - 6/5/20 and 3B pod was tested again on 7/27/20.

Baskerville was tested on 6/9/20 and again between 7/29/20 - 7/30/20.