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Alabama prison system anticipates widespread coronavirus infections, internal document shows

Alabama prison system anticipates widespread coronavirus infections, internal document shows
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Alabama’s state prison system is anticipating widespread coronavirus cases and hundreds of deaths, according to an internal document from the state’s Department of Corrections that was obtained by AL.com.

The 263-page document planning for the pandemic predicts that the worst-scenario of a coronavirus outbreak in the state prison system, which holds almost 22,000 inmates, would lead to an estimated 185 deaths.

The Alabama Department of Corrections said in this scenario it would request assistance from the National Guard to fill in staffing gaps. 

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The document dated April 1 said the prisons’ physical design, severe overcrowding and understaffing could make stopping the spread of the virus among prisoners and employees impossible, according to AL.com.

The department is also expecting to pay $2.3 million for supplies to respond such as personal protective equipment, medication and body bags, according to the document that was signed by Ruth Naglich, the associate commissioner for health services. 

The plan says all inmates suspected of having COVID-19 or those who have just arrived should be quarantined but recognizes some prisons will not have the space for that. 

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jefferson Dunn told AL.com that the department is doing everything it can to prevent a widespread outbreak.

"The number one thing in my mind is safety, is trying our best to prevent the virus from getting into the facilities, and then mitigating the impact," he said.

The department has reported no prisoners to be diagnosed with COVID-19, although two employees have tested positive. Twenty-one prisoners have been tested, with nine cases still pending, according to its website

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Two Alabama prisons are sewing face masks for other inmates and prison staff across the state. They are expected to produce 2,000 to 2,500 masks a day, AL.com reported. 

Some experts have proposed Alabama follow in other states’ footsteps and release certain subsets of prisoners to reduce overcrowding, like those who are elderly, have severe medical conditions or have little time left in their sentences. 

California, New Jersey and New York have designated populations to release from prisons. 

Updated on April 6 at 6:56 a.m.