(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Prisons across the country have been a hotspot for COVID-19 and Missouri is no exception.
Since March, the Missouri Department of Corrections reports 397 inmates have tested positive. 15 of those 397 positive cases are right here at the Western Reception Diagnostic Correctional Center in St. Joseph.
Five staff members have tested positive and the MDOC reports there are three active positive coronavirus cases currently within the facility.
While the 20 total cases are only 1% of the facility's population to test positive in all, inmates said there's more going on behind closed doors.
“You know, most of us here in this facility here are nonviolent offenders. Well, we’ve been sentenced to a death penalty for not being treated properly. We’ve been sentenced to death,” said Ernest Hines, offender at Western Reception Diagnostic Correctional Center.
Ernest Hines is an inmate at the WRDCC serving time for violating his parole for marijuanna use.
Offenders said although they've made mistakes, they still deserve basic health care.
Robert Vanbibber, an inmate at the WRDCC reported that the correctional center is refusing to provide him medical treatment after showing signs of COVID-19 and aren't taking offenders' health concerns seriously.
“And they won’t retest me. Medical won’t do nothing about it. I keep telling them, they just write it down and say, ‘whatever.’”
Inmates said the state-run facility is not separating the offenders testing positive for the virus from the offenders testing negative.
“I don’t think they’re protecting us none. Like, at all. They put 31 people and they quarantined us with the positive people, with 10 positive people,” said Vanbibber.
Offenders said five feet is all that separates the positive cells from the negative and that's best case scenario.
“They had us across the hall from each other, but we all ate together, showered together, used the bathroom, washed our hands,” said Vanbibber.
Inmates report that the WRDCC gave them one mask, but no other replacement masks have been provided or cleaning supplies to disinfect the original face covering.
In an emailed statement, the MDOC said, "Every staff member and every offender has received at least 2 face covers, along with instructions on how to clean them."
The lack of physical distancing from the infected within the correctional center is leaving inmates and their families afraid.
“They are angry, they are afraid because they don’t know the outcome,” said Hines.
Cathy Coleman, the wife of an inmate at the state-facility said because of the correctional center's previous history with the coronavirus and what inmates inside are reporting, she doesn't trust the facility is protecting it's offenders.
“Well, obviously I don’t want my husband or any of the other inmates coming down ill and one of the first COVID cases came from there and the man died,” said Cathy Coleman, wife of Billy Coleman, inmate at WRDCC.
The first inmate to test positive and die from COVID-19 in Missouri came from the WRDCC.
Offenders serving time there now said they're worried they're next.
In an emailed statement to KQ2, the Missouri Department of Corrections said:
“Offenders who test positive do not remain in a housing wing with offenders who test negative once the test results have been received," said Karen Pojmann, Communications Director for the Missouri Department of Corrections.
The statement goes on to say, "It is not physically possible for the labs to process all 1,550+ offender tests, as well as all staff tests, simultaneously. For that reason, we did not receive all of the test results simultaneously. Therefore it’s possible that someone who is positive and someone who is negative are sharing the same spaces before the test results have been reported. After the test results have been reported, anyone who tests positive is relocated to an isolation unit," said Pojmann.
Offenders KQ2 spoke with on July 1st said they were sharing the same wing and dayroom facilities as 10 inmates testing positive. The next day, the offenders reported that the negative offenders were moved to a different house.
Inmates said since being moved, they have not been retested after being exposed to offenders testing positive with COVID-19.
THE MDOC stressed that "no offenders remain in quarantine with known positive test results," said Pojmann.
The MDOC reports testing of all offenders on intake and one week prior to leaving the prison system began June 1st and mass testing of all offenders and staff at all state facilities, regardless of symptoms, began May 26th.
17,764 Missouri inmates have been tested in all.