Right now, Wisconsin state prisons are a public health catastrophe. The meteoric spike in COVID-19 statewide has set off a severe outbreak in Wisconsin prisons. There have now been more than 9,000 positive tests overall, and more than 1,200 active cases throughout the system. Nineteen people have lost their lives.

The experience each incarcerated person has varies greatly, and while some correctional facilities, like Robert Ellsworth Correctional Center (REEC), a minimum work release center in Racine County, are taking some precautions to slow the spread, it is unfortunately not the norm. Most correctional facilities have failed to take appropriate action, leaving many incarcerated individuals in a vulnerable position in which their lives hang in the balance.

Roxanne Elliot, who has been incarcerated since 1989 and is currently at RECC, shares her experience:

My name is Roxanne Elliot. I’m an inmate at REEC. COVID was introduced to the center in June of 2020, and then the Center started to take precautions. The inmates here, they had a center where they make masks. Each inmate was given three masks. We were directed to wear our masks. We did social distancing. They started having us sit in the dining room three to a table, standing six feet apart to practice social distancing. Then COVID started spreading through the Center and they started to quarantine us. If you got sick, they quarantined you. The A side, the A side over here for work release, they shut that side down, because of COVID there was no work release. They quarantined them over in the work release area.

I feel the Center has been very good at taking precautions and trying to keep us safe. It is also a safety precaution on our part. We have to wash our hands and make sure that you take care of yourself to try to prevent the spread of COVID.

But like any other virus, things happen where people will get it.  Three women, to my knowledge, have been hospitalized with it back in the Center (According to the DOC’s testing dashboard, 233 women have tested positive inside REEC.)...the Center is doing what is what it can to help us and prevent this, so it is a two-way street here. So they are doing their part trying to keep us safe, and we are doing our part to try to keep us safe as well. I mean, I really don’t have complaints about what is going on here at RECC.

We are still allowed to go outside, and we are encouraged to go outside for three hours a day. The nurses do screening on those who have come down with the virus, so every morning, their temperature is taken before the staff is allowed in, their temperature is taken. They also get tested every ten days as well. So they are doing what they can to help keep the virus down, but there is really no way to keep it down. So we are just doing our part to stay well. I’m looking forward to leaving here soon. 

As Roxanne’s experience shows, even prisons taking the proper precautions by practicing social distancing and testing incarcerated people and staff are still seeing hospitalizations from the pandemic. If these are the best conditions that an incarcerated person can expect behind our prison walls, possible infection and hospitalization, what are the worst?

We need to take immediate action in order to stop the prison pandemic. Tell Gov. Evers to save lives and release the vulnerable people from prison during this pandemic. Sign our petition here: bit.ly/wiprisonpandemic.