Phillip Gonzalez turned himself in to Racine Police in early October, hoping to get a two-week prison sentence stemming from a DWI conviction out of the way. Once he was processed into the jail he found himself mask-less and in the midst of a COVID outbreak.
“We all had our masks on like everyone’s been doing to curb the spread of coronavirus, but once we were processed, they took our masks from us,” Gonzalez told WTMJ upon his release on October 16th. “That was the last time I saw my mask until I was released.”
In just the last month, several prisons and jails across Wisconsin confirmed coronavirus outbreaks of at least 100 people and, in some cases, upwards of 400. At its peak, last Monday, Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution reported 412 cases, while OshKosh Correctional Institution reported 346. Both facilities have seen their numbers decrease to 164 and 264 respectively.
At the Racine County jail, which operates separately from state prisons and is overseen by the Racine County Sheriff’s Office, an outbreak of more than 120 inmates was reported last week.
Gonzalez tells WTMJ that inmates at the jail are not tested for coronavirus when they are processed into the facility, or when they are processed out. They also aren’t allowed to fashion their own face protection.
“We were putting shirts, towels, old socks, they’re wrapping old t-shirts, and they were told by anybody watching on the camera to take their face masks down.” Gonzalez says they were told they couldn’t wear the masks because of safety precautions.
Inmates at the jail have been posting videos on Facebook, highlighting some of the issues the jail is facing. (This Facebook video is not censored for language)
During a press briefing on COVID-19 last week, Governor Evers called the jail and prison outbreaks, “troubling,” while an attorney for the Governor’s Office said the Department of Corrections was doing everything it could to get outbreaks under control.
“They have been very aggressive in terms of making sure inmate needs are met in terms of personal hygiene and isolation in order to address COVID-19.”
Despite repeated efforts WTMJ was unable to get a comment from the Racine County Sheriff’s Office, they cited privacy laws as the reason not to comment. However they did provide a check list of things they were doing to combat the spread in the jail like using disinfectant cleaner to wipe down rooms, purchasing a $49,000 UV light to kill the virus. The jail said it didn’t provide hand sanitizer to inmates immediately since it’s “dangerous to digest”.
“I’ll be the first one to admit, I put myself in this position,” Goznalez said during a phone interview. “That being said, the fact that people are in that situation doesn’t make them any less of a human. It shouldn’t be a death sentence for anybody to be in there.”
To date, Wisconsin’s reported more than 190,000 positive COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began in March and on Wednesday (October 21st), the DHS reported a record high 4,200 new cases. More than 1,600 people have died, including 48 deaths reported on Wednesday.