DARTMOUTH — At least 47 people incarcerated at the regional jail on Faunce Corner in Dartmouth and six staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 in an outbreak that began Nov. 1. Cases among inmates and staff jumped by 18 over the weekend, according to a spokesperson for the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office.
There are 690 people behind bars at the Bristol County House of Correction and Jail at 400 Faunce Corner Road in North Dartmouth, 494 of whom are awaiting trial in Bristol County courts. A lockdown of the facility meant to quarantine people exposed to the virus and isolate those who test positive has so far failed to stop the spread.
It is the latest of several COVID-19 outbreaks that have occurred in recent weeks at jails in Massachusetts, including Middleton Jail in Essex County and Worcester County Jail in West Boylston.
Data, which the jail is required to report to the state, indicate Bristol County tested 174 people across four facilities between Nov. 1 when the first positive result occurred and Friday, Nov. 12. Jonathan Darling, spokesperson for the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, said people are tested upon arrival, or if they develop symptoms and request to be tested. He did not know what kind of test was used or how many have requested testing.
The Bristol County Sheriff’s Office could not immediately provide written policies for COVID-19 mitigation efforts in its facilities and referred The Light to the sheriff’s legal department.
Speaking from a phone inside the Dartmouth jail, Lewis E. Floyd, who has been awaiting trial at Dartmouth jail since July 21, said he had been tested for COVID-19 twice — on Wednesday, Nov. 3, and Sunday, Nov. 7.
Floyd said people around him were coughing and lying on bunks spaced about 3 feet apart. He said they lacked hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment. Everyone in his housing unit had one reusable mask, he said. He was instructed to wash it and reuse it during his pre-trial detention.
“What they’re doing is, if you test positive or if you have symptoms, they remove you to segregation. They punish you,” Floyd said, referring to the housing unit usually reserved for dealing with infractions.
“I don’t know why they’re doing this guilt by association,” said Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services in Massachusetts. “Testing in the county jails in particular has been very loose. There should be basic CDC guidelines being followed, but quarantining and cohorting has been a problem from the very beginning of the pandemic. Somebody tests positive and they treat everybody like they’re positive when that should not be happening.”
There are three male segregation units at the Dartmouth jail, which can house up to 64 people in one and two-bed cells. Before COVID-19 struck the jail this month, Bristol County relied on these units to place people in solitary confinement as part of its discipline process. Those housed in segregation units spend nearly all their time in their cells, with brief periods to shower and one hour on weekdays to exercise in a small outdoor pen. They receive their meals through a slot in the door.
“Because of this protocol, I can tell you my son is very depressed,” said Carol Short, a Taunton woman who has been speaking to her incarcerated son on the phone. Lawrence Short has COVID-19 and was in a segregation unit at Dartmouth jail on a pre-trial detention Monday.
“I can imagine what it must be like to be in solitary confinement,” she said. “He was very down, very depressed, trying to accept the situation. He wanted to know why he was where he was. My other family members said they call it the hole. I said that’s beyond me.”
“If you show symptoms, we’ll test you, and those positive inmates are in a unit all by themselves so our health staff can keep an eye on them,” Darling said. “This will clear up in a week.”
One person who has tested positive was hospitalized briefly, Darling said, and returned to the jail the next day. Yet there are zero hospitalizations reported in daily updates with the state.
Darling said the jail tracks the vaccination status of people admitted to the facility but does not track the percentage of the population vaccinated. Weekly vaccination reports published in ongoing litigation show Bristol County administered 14 vaccines to people at the Dartmouth facility in the first half of October, and 268 in total since COVID-19 vaccines became available.
William LaGrant, who is incarcerated at Dartmouth jail while he awaits trial, requested a vaccine three weeks ago and hasn’t received one.
“We haven’t gotten any clean masks,” said LaGrant from inside the jail Friday. “We haven’t gotten sanitizer. Anything that will keep us from getting the COVID.”
“There’s quite a few of us here that are worried for their own health,” he said.
Darling said claims of inmates not receiving masks or hand sanitizer are completely false, noting that every housing unit for inmates has hand sanitizer. He also said each inmate is given two masks, and inmates can request a new mask at any time by asking an health care professional or corrections officer.
In a statement during litigation in the first year of the pandemic, Darling acknowledged, “Six feet apart is practically impossible in any correctional setting, in any jail, in any prison, in any state, in any county, anywhere.”
“Regardless of physical distance, all prisons have ventilation systems that circulate shared air throughout the facility, so that prisoners are effectively breathing in the same air all the time. And adequate sanitation is impossible in shared spaces with constant traffic,” lawyers from Prisoners Legal Services wrote in a letter submitted in the Committee for Public Counsel Services’ suit that began in March 2020 and continues to wind through the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court at present.
Messages The Light sent to three people on the Securus Technologies app provided to incarcerated people at Dartmouth and other jails and prisons across Massachusetts were blocked by the facility last Thursday, pending review by security.
Darling said anyone in the facilities who wants to talk to the media needs to sign a consent form first. “All the inmates are aware of it,” he said.
Email Abigail Nehring at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: This story was amended to include additional information from the sheriff’s office.
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