27 inmates, four staff infected with coronavirus at House of Correction

Milwaukee County House of Correction
Posted at 9:41 PM, Apr 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-18 14:33:45-04

A coronavirus outbreak at the Milwaukee County House of Correction has sickened at least 27 inmates and four staff as more await test results.

According to Milwaukee County House of Correction (HOC) Superintendent Michael Hafemann, 17 inmates are symptomatic, and six have been tested. Hafemann says 23 staff are self-isolating at home, and another nine staff are presumptively positive. He says there are 623 inmates in the HOC building, and 158 are being monitored electronically.

An inmate filed a handwritten lawsuit Thursday asking for his release from the House of Correction because of his risk of the coronavirus. In the suit, James Hoskins, 57, claims the facility is not following social distancing guidelines, noting he sleeps in a 2,470 square foot quarters with 42 inmates. He also says he was given one paper mask to wear for a week.

A spokesperson for the county said it couldn't comment on open lawsuits but that it has taken steps to continue to protect the health of the inmates, which includes decreasing dorm capacity and providing masks to all inmates.

The state will test all 623 inmates in the facility on Saturday. Anyone who tests positive is isolated.

The county has also hired a private contractor to sanitize the facility for 29 days in addition to the current cleaning done by staff. Hafemann said workers were doing deep cleaning and testing before the HOC had any cases.

"This is a situation, probably the only one, where there is analogy to be made between the House of Correction and a cruise ship," said Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. "They are both very confined spaces, and no matter how much you do, you're always going to have a harder risk to manage."

At least 175 inmates are being supervised on electronic monitoring across all of the county's facilities, and officials are limiting new jail admissions.

Thomas Reed, with the state's public defender office, says nonviolent inmates could be able to serve time at home.

"We have probably 30% of the people who are in the jail and House of corrections, who are taking psychotropic medication, which is a pretty strong indicator that the reason that they're in trouble is because of mental health conditions," Reed said.

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