Overcrowding creates coronavirus fears in women’s prison


Nine inmates walked away from the Pierre Community Work Center at the Women’s Prison after a fellow inmate came down with symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19.

A female inmate — who was in minimum security where prisoners worked throughout the community — tested positive for COVID-19

“(She) Continues to do well; she remains in isolation at the women’s prison. We’re following all medical guidelines with that patient as we would advise any other health care provider.” South Dakota Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said.

The Pierre Community Work Center in the minimum security work-release unit at the Women’s Prison

KELOLAND News has heard from those who work behind bars who are worried.

“We are currently working with all potential individuals that came into contact with this inmate. That would include staff, plus other inmates. We continue to assess and if any of them show symptoms we will take prompt action to contain the issue,” Malsam-Rysdon said.

Nine women housed in the same unit as the COVID-19 patient walked away from the Community Work Center following the diagnosis. One was caught in Pennington County, three others were found on the Crow Creek Reservation. Five are still at-large.

Inmates who walked away from minimum security unit

“We are currently looking looking at situation involving the eight individuals to see if they had close proximity with the positive case. Obviously that’s a very serious situation and all hands are on deck to figure it out.”

South Dakota Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Ryson

KELOLAND News was contacted by Amanda Watts, who is serving time on drugs charges.
Watts says the overcrowded Women’s Prison is a breeding ground for germs and they fear for their health.

“There are almost 200 women over here, into one room so they can let the construction guys come in while all this is happening . And us 200 women will be stuck in there for eight hours,” Amanda Watts said.

Inmate Amanda Watts talks about overcrowding at the Women’s Prison in Pierre

KELOLAND News Kelli Volk: Is there a concern about it being in the hallways or going through the air filtration system in the prison?
Gov. Kristi Noem: Yes, we obviously are taking every precaution possible and investigating every exposure that could exist.

“We’re worried about our health. We’re worried about getting sick. So are the guards that work here because they’re not even coming to work,” Watts said.

KELOLAND Investigates has confirmed that at least one correctional officer stayed home out of fear for his and his family’s safety.

Several inmates reported to KELOLAND Investigates that the inmate who has coronavirus worked cleaning the state capitol building after it closed. We have asked the state for confirmation of that, but have not received a response.

The escapee who was caught in Pennington County was tested for the COVID-19 and the results are not back yet.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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