The Calloway County Jail in Murray, Kentucky made it through the first nine months of the pandemic without any confirmed COVID-19 cases, then in December 2020 suffered an outbreak of 30 confirmed cases. Inmates report they’re concerned about how the jail is managing their health.
Five inmates reached out to WKMS News to share concerns about sick inmates housed with the well, and what they view as inadequate care after contracting the virus.
David Allsop, who’s in for a probation violation on a burglary second degree charge, caught COVID-19 during the December outbreak. He said he has pre-existing conditions including asthma and COPD, which require medical treatment, yet when he first started showing symptoms, it was his cell mates who provided care for him.
Allsop recalled running a high fever and enduring chills until one of his cell mates gave up his blanket so Allsop could keep warm. His symptoms were so severe, he said, the jail staff removed him from the cell in a wheelchair.
“I almost couldn't get up. But then I was thrown in the hole all weekend. For several hours I didn't even have a blanket or a mat,” he said. “And they’re telling me I was fine, but wanted to wash all of my stuff before they gave it back to me.”
James Walls is awaiting transfer to a state facility after being sentenced to serve two years for methamphetamine-related charges. He said he somehow managed to test negative, but several of his cell mates were confirmed positive for COVID-19.
“And they did not remove us. They didn't separate us, they just left us in the cell with them,” Walls recalled. “And then a week later, they moved me to cell 147 which had I think 11 positive cases.”
That cell was so full, Walls said, there weren’t enough bunks, so inmates were sleeping on mats on the floor.
Kenny Johnson is serving three years for charges including a DUI (driving under the influence), possession of methamphetamine and tampering with physical evidence. He said he and his father were in the same cell together until first responders took his father to the hospital for stroke symptoms. While there, his father also received a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.
“The medical staffs come in our cells, didn't tell us that we've been subject to being around COVID-19. They just said, ‘Hey y’all, we got approved by the jailer to give y’all COVID-19 tests. We want to start with your cell first. Who wants a test?’” he recalled. “They didn’t say we was around it.”
Jonathan Drum is being held for bail jumping and faces a number of other charges including trafficking in methamphetamine and marijuana. He’s one of the inmates who caught COVID-19 during the December outbreak. He said it felt like the flu at first, and then he lost his senses of smell and taste.
“We just want them to consider our rights through just like people, not animals,” he said. “They wouldn't even tell us we had it for a long time. It's pretty obvious by their actions that it was in here. They kept saying that it was in violation of our HIPAA to tell us that it was in here. And they took our visits from us too, I'm not too happy about it.”
Ronald Fry is being held for probation violation with original charges including manufacturing methamphetamine, tampering with evidence and first degree wanton endangerment. He said he and his cell mates don’t want to cause trouble, they want to see better treatment for those who are ill, and more concern for the well being of those who are not yet sick.
“They’re supposed to be giving these guys some treatment, we want them to get through this. Some of these guys ain't in here for nothing, a little bit of nothing. You know what I'm saying? Ain't like they're out killing people,” he said. “Some of them are in here for crimes. You know, a lot of them are just like warrants for parole violations and absconding and stuff like that. We ain’t trying to die over an absconding charge.”
Fry also said once the inmates who have a significant struggle with symptoms are removed from the cell, that’s the end of the information for their former cell mates. He said he understands there’s certain information that’s supposed to be confidential, but he believes the jail staff could share more than they do. He said inmates have the right to know if they’ve been exposed to a deadly virus.
“They’re saying, ‘HIPAA, HIPAA, HIPAA.’ He’s sleeping right beside me. I want another damn test,” Fry added.
WKMS asked Calloway County Jailer Kenneth Claud about the inmate who reported “being thrown in the hole,” after starting to show symptoms, with no mat, no pillow and no blanket for several hours despite shivering due to high fever, and spending 10 days without so much as a Tylenol to help control the fever.
Claud said, “That's just kind of, in general, how inmates present their situation to anybody that would listen. I mean, it's not a pretty situation. It's not real comfortable. It is jail. But we try to provide the necessities, of course, you know, heat, shelter, food, medical care.”
WKMS also asked Claud if it was a fair assessment made by the inmates that those who were asymptomatic or not yet infected were caring for those who were symptomatic, in the same cell, sometimes for several days while the visibly ill awaited medical care and/or testing and test results; having to receive a positive result before being moved into a different cell, if they’re ever moved at all; likely not receiving any medication to assist with symptoms; then if they were removed from the general population while openly symptomatic, they’re returned to a cell where others are still symptomatic and therefore risk contracting the virus again.
Claud’s response: “I would say it's a fair assessment of the challenges. Like I said, with the limited space, we do the best we can as far as keeping the people that are positive with others that are positive, and the ones that are not displaying symptoms away from those, but I couldn't say that 100% because I'm sure it's not at times.”
Claud said he implemented policies and new measures in an effort to protect the inmates as much as possible. Those new policies included not allowing arresting officers to enter the jail with inmates; instead, a jailer would meet the officer in the sallyport to take the inmate’s temperature and ask a series of questions regarding symptoms. He said if the inmate had a fever or other symptoms, the jail would deny admission until a medical evaluation was conducted.
Claud said other policies include daily monitoring temperatures and potential symptoms of jail staff, hand washing and sanitizing procedures as well as mandatory mask-wearing any time jail staff is interacting with inmates.
Visitation for the inmates also had to change, Claud confirmed. At first, visitation stopped completely. Then, he opened it up to two days a week, but limited the number of people in the visitation booths so there would only be four visitations happening at one time as opposed to the usual 10. After the outbreak in December 2020 hit, the jail had to stop visitations again for a time. As of mid-January, Claud said visitations were still halted.
And for a time, those policies seemed to work. The first confirmed case of COVID-19 hit Kentucky on March 6, 2020 but it wasn’t until December 2020 when it penetrated the jail. The Calloway County Health Department confirmed 30 reported cases at Calloway’s jail in December. The health department says three inmates and one jail employee are confirmed positive for the month of January.
“We thought we were doing pretty good, too. All of a sudden in December, just kind of like, bam, you know?” Claud said. “It's pretty challenging to try to keep it out of here. It's kind of like a nursing home situation. I mean, you can have certain people, like your staff have to be there, and they go home and go out in the general public. And then they come back in. And even if the inside population is staying put, for the most part, you have your staff that has to come and go. So they get exposed to people on the outside. But we try to limit that, as best we can.”
To further complicate the matters, Claud said, the inmate population is “fluid,” but the walls are not. On Jan. 13, Claud reported housing 158 inmates; 136 at the main jail facility and 22 at the restricted custody center. He confirmed the jail is slightly overcrowded and at the main facility there were some inmates sleeping on mats on the floors. He also confirmed there are instances when inmates who were sick and suffering symptoms of COVID-19 were left in the cell with other inmates who didn’t appear to be ill.
In addition to overcrowding, Claud said there are a number of daily concerns a jail faces. One of those concerns is inmate segregation based on their offense; he explained co-defendants are separated, sex offenders and violent offenders are also house separately from non-violent offenders, and inmates who can’t get along are also separated.
Along with those considerations, Claud said he has a limited number of spaces where the sick inmates could be separated from the well. He said the jail has one wing with eight isolation cells, which the inmates call “the hole,” and those are typically used for disciplinary purposes. He said there are four “detox cells” near booking also, but those are typically utilized for incoming inmates who need medical supervision.
“We have a limited space here, so we just have to make the best use of it as we can,” he said.
Claud explained when inmates need medical attention, they fill out a form requesting medical treatment and that’s passed along to the jail nurse. He said, in general, he believes it’s accurate inmates who are symptomatic are left in the general population, at least until they’re assessed by the nurse. He said the only time inmates typically receive immediate medical attention is in emergency situations, such as a heart attack--in which case emergency services come pick up the inmate and transport them to the local hospital where a guard stays with them the entire duration of the stay.
Claud said he and his staff base policies and procedures on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kentucky Department of Corrections guidelines and Calloway County Health Department guidelines.
Regarding the medical care administered to the inmates, Claud said those decisions are made by the healthcare providers at West Kentucky Correctional Healthcare, contracted by the jail to provide medical services to the inmates. He said there’s a nurse who comes to the jail five days per week, and that nurse coordinates with a nurse practitioner and medical doctor for inmates’ treatment.
In response to a request for an interview from WKMS, West Kentucky Correctional Healthcare issued the following written statement:
“The policy and procedures regarding Covid-19 are under the guidance of the state and local health department recommendations and in line with the standards set forth by the Federal Department of Corrections. The Covid 19 pandemic has vast health implications and ever forthcoming information. As such the policies and procedures regarding it are updated frequently by state and local health officials input based on medical literature.”