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For The First Time, Wisconsin Corrections Officials Record Data On COVID-19-Related Deaths

State Department Of Corrections Reports 5 Prisoners Have Died Due To COVID-19

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A coil of barbed wire along the walls of a prison
Fred Dunn (CC-BY-NC)

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections is reporting that five prisoners have died after contracting coronavirus, as the agency released details about deaths for the first time on its COVID-19 dashboard on Friday.

The change was first reported by the Wisconsin State Journal.

The department is now listing deaths as COVID-19-related when a medical examiner or coroner has documented the virus as the underlying cause or a significant contributing factor to an inmate’s death, according to the DOC website.

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In a statement, DOC Secretary Kevin Carr said the agency is committed to protecting people in their care.

“We have and will continue to be as transparent as possible within the laws governing protection of the private health information of those in our care. Our agency will be reporting a total number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, satisfying our desire for transparency without jeopardizing privacy protections,” wrote Carr. “We understand the strong public desire for this information, and this will provide the public and loved ones of persons in our care a clearer picture of the current state of COVID-19 in DOC institutions.”

A DOC spokesperson said the department is not releasing the location or identifying factors of the individuals who have died due to privacy protections.

Earlier this month, the Dodge County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed that two prisoners died in September who were housed at the Dodge Correctional Institution. The maximum security prison is the intake facility for all inmates coming into the state’s prison system.

The State Journal reported the county’s medical examiner said a 63-year-old man with preexisting health conditions died on Sept. 12 from COVID-19. A 62-year-old man who also contracted the virus at Dodge Correctional died of lung cancer.

Dane County’s medical examiner confirmed that COVID-19 “likely contributed” to the death of a 54 year-old Green Bay prisoner with pre-existing conditions who died on Oct. 7. The Fond du Lac County medical examiner said a 56 year-old man’s death was related to COVID-19, according to the newspaper.

Corrections officials are now reporting there are 1,448 active COVID-19 cases among inmates, and that there have been 4,329 cases overall. That means 20 percent of the state’s current prison population has now contracted COVID-19. The state’s prison system has more than five times the number of COVID-19 cases it had at the beginning of September.

The department has said inmates are tested when they arrive at its intake facility, as well as when they’re transferred to another DOC institution.

Criminal justice advocates and activist groups have urged Carr and Gov. Tony Evers to release those who are most vulnerable to the disease. They argue the state’s prison system provides an ideal setting for the virus to spread due to overcrowding and limited ability to practice social distancing.

Carr and the DOC have said their authority to release people is limited. So far, the agency has released around 1,600 people from supervisory holds or the Alternative to Revocation program at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility.

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