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First COVID-19 case at ACI will not alter state’s policy



A Correctional Officer from the Rhode Island Department of Corrections tested positive for COVID-19...”

“The officer went home after notifying the warden the officer was not feeling well on Wednesday,” reported JR Ventura, Public Relations Officer at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections late Saturday night. “Our medical department is working closely with the Department of Health, which is conducting a thorough contact tracing process. The officer’s post has minimal interaction with inmates. We are continuing to monitor the situation in our secured facilities. The areas suspected of exposure have been properly sanitized following CDC guidelines. We wish the officer a speedy recovery.”

Today UpriseRI asked Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo during her daily press briefing if this confirmed case of COVID-19 at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) has led her to re-prioritize and reconsider the possibility of early release for some inmates. Governor Raimondo had previously said that reducing the prison population “isn’t something we think is necessary at this time.”

See more coverage of the vulnerable prison population during the COVID-19 pandemic here:

“It has not led me to reconsider or re-prioritize that,” said Raimondo, before turning the podium over to her Chief of Staff Brett Smiley.

Smiley began by addressing the positive case of COVID-19 at the ACI, then explained more broadly the situation at the State’s prisons:

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“The good news is is that there does not appear to have been any personal contact between the positive employee and any inmates. That’s both good news [and] a function of the good work that’s been happening at the ACI to plan for this crisis for weeks. We have taken all kinds of protective measures to ensure that both the staff and the people incarcerated at the ACI are kept safe through this crisis. And we are working hard to make sure, while maintaining public safety, that we are taking responsible steps to allow for additional distance, to be mindful of the climate within the prison.

“We know that just like this is a stressful time for all Rhode Islanders, it’s particularly stressful for those who are incarcerated. We’ve suspended in person visits, but we’ve worked with our vendors. So, for example, now inmates are allowed two free phone calls per week, which was donated by our provider. We’re allowing up to five free letters per week and even those who are in solitary confinement, [who] are normally not allowed phone calls, have had that privilege restored. Finally, with respect to the prison population, we’ve worked hard with the Attorney General’s office, the Public Defender’s office and the Parole Board to make sure that we’re able to keep the system moving so that those who are ready for release can be released. We’ve enabled technology to make sure that the Parole Board can continue to meet.

“We’ve gone back and looked at people who are close to release to see if there is past good time that can be restored to accelerate their release. And we’ve waived the bail fee. [For] people who are being held on relatively small amounts of bail, there’s an additional fee to pay bail and that fee has been waived. Finally, in partnership with Public Defender’s office, we’re looking to see if there are folks who can be held at home prior to any sort of trial or hearing. So we’re working hard in a responsible manner to make sure that we’re still maintaining every appropriate level of public safety [during] what we know is an extraordinarily difficult time, not just for Rhode Islanders, but [for the] incarcerated. The last note I’d like to make is [that] working in the Department of Corrections as a correctional officer or as a staff person is one of the hardest jobs in Rhode Island and the stress that they are going through at this time is compounded by the situation. So we want to thank them for their hard work, thank them for their professionalism and thank them for their cooperation through this time.”

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.