Prison Workers Union Says COVID-19 Is Creating Chaotic Conditions

May 1, 2020

23 percent of all confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ohio are prison workers or inmates, and 31 inmates and workers have died. Ohio is the first state to do mass testing at three prisons. But the union representing prison workers says those facilities are still dangerous.

Ohio prisons director Annette Chambers-Smith said at Gov. Mike DeWine's press conference Thursday that everyone is tested daily, inmate teams clean surfaces all day and sleeping and eating arrangements have been changed because of COVID-19.

But those inside prisons say without enough personal protective equipment, things are chaotic.

And Chris Mabe with OSCEA, which represents prison staff, said mass testing is needed in all facilities where anyone has tested positive.

“I’m quite sure they’re fearful of actually what it’s going to look like. I don’t think that 31 deaths and 3,964 positives is something I would be running around claiming is success.”

Friday afternoon, that number was updated to 4,072 positive cases, along with 31 inmate deaths and two staff deaths, and two inmate deaths that are probable for COVID-19.

Though the state has said it would continue testing in prisons, Mabe fears it will actually slow down because of limited tests.

And Mabe said he’s concerned that administrators who are working from home aren’t fully aware of the conditions in the state’s prisons, especially those where COVID-19 has been found.

“Not to be disrespectful, the only people that know what’s happening on the ground are the people that are walking around on the ground in harm’s way on a daily basis," Mabe said. “PPE is still not as readily available as it should be. Having proper testing inside our facilities and testing everyone at a red facility is the only identifier of the what the true status of that facility is.”

And Mabe fears testing in prisons will slow down or stop because of limited tests.

Mabe is on quarantine because his wife, also a prisons employee, tested positive.