Mississippi prison holding immigration detainees reports rising number of coronavirus cases

Published 8:33 am Thursday, April 16, 2020

Adams County Correctional Facility on Wednesday reported a total of five COVID-19 cases in detainees and one positive COVID-19 case in an employee at the facility located off of U.S. 84.

The Adams County Correctional Facility is owned and operated by CoreCivic, which has a contract to house U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees.

On Monday, ICE reported that one detainee in the Adams County facility had tested positive for COVID-19 but that number rose to five detainees and one employee by Wednesday morning.

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Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell’s COVID-19 Task Force members met with CoreCivic officials, including Natchez Adams Correctional Facility Warden Shawn Gillis and Managing Director of Federal and Local Partnership Development at CoreCivic Jeb Beasley, in a teleconference call on Wednesday.

The CoreCivic officials answered questions about the facility’s efforts to contain spread of COVID-19 in the facility and agreed to begin providing the community with regular updates on the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the facility.

Gillis told task force members that the Adams County facility is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols and the facility issued face masks to employees and detainees on Monday.

“We are encouraging and urging (use of masks) . . .” Beasley said. “. . . But unless directed by the customer, we can’t force the detainees to wear masks.”

Gillis said anyone who is in isolation inside the Adams County Correctional Facility because of suspected COVID-19 and people who are around those suspected of having COVID-19 are required to wear masks.

“We definitely enforce what CDC says about being around those that have been isolated for the virus and those that have the symptoms, even staff,” Gillis said. “As far as our staff and detainees that are in regular housing we strongly encourage (wearing masks).”

Gillis said administrators are constantly communicating with staff members and detainees on proper protocols for curtailing spread of the virus.

“We are answering questions and providing means for staying as sanitary as possible,” Gillis said. “We clean, we clean, we clean. We continue to encourage and talk. … We are doing everything to keep this thing as isolated as possible. We understand that lives are at stake, detainees’ lives and our staff’s lives.”

Gillis said that for several weeks now, prison staff members have been taking temperatures of everyone who enters the facility and anyone who has any symptoms is not allowed entrance to the facility.

Gillis said 10 detainees with COVID-19 or suspected COVID-19 are currently being held in isolation in a separate building from the general population.

“We have different areas where we can house people and separate them,” Gillis said. “That is why all of our cases have come out of one specific housing unit. They are all separate but they are in single rooms.”

Gillis and Beasley told task force members the facility would begin to provide regular daily updates on the number of positive cases inside the facility and would make those numbers available to the Mayor’s office and to The Natchez Democrat for publication.

“I don’t see a problem with you knowing,” Gillis said.

Prison staffers conduct the tests and send them in to the Mississippi State Department of Health to determine the results, Gillis said of the testing procedure.

Task force member Chesney Doyle asked Beasley and Gillis about a recent effort spearheaded by Natchez mayoral candidate Dan Gibson, who worked with Third Congressional District U.S. Rep. Michael Guest and U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde Smith to provide face masks to the Adams County Correctional Facility for use by staff members and detainees.

Beasley said CoreCivic declined that offer and had kept the lawmakers in the loop on that decision.

“We are not communicating with Mr. Gibson, but we are communicating with the federal delegation,” Beasley said.

Beasley and Gillis also said CoreCivic employees who are working through the COVID-19 pandemic will receive a $500 Hero Bonus in appreciation of their service and dedication.