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Limited Testing in Mississippi Prisons May Be Obscuring Virus’s Toll

“We believe that while testing may have made it appear we were being proactive, testing is not a substitute for taking actual, immediate and continued action to keep inmates safe,” he said. “We believe that the available data nearly a year into the pandemic shows that our decision was the right one. Mississippi’s Covid-related inmate hospitalizations and deaths are among the lowest in prisons across the Southeast United States.”

But inmates say they fear for their lives.

In one facility, the George-Greene County/Regional Correctional Facility in Lucedale, three in four inmates have been infected. Elsewhere, cases have spread inside buildings that are in disrepair and that defy even rudimentary coronavirus prevention measures, according to state documents and inmates interviewed by The Times.

A lack of dependable running water has prevented handwashing and showers in some prisons, inmates said. In one prison, crowding has meant that as many as four inmates share cells designed for one person. And in another facility, dormitories are so packed that people say when they roll over in bed, their arms sometimes inadvertently strike a neighboring bunk.

At Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, nine inmates have died from the coronavirus, but the prison has tested only 195 of its 3,000 inmates. Of those tested, 102 were found to be infected, according to state data.

Paloma Wu, a lawyer at the Mississippi Center for Justice, a nonprofit law firm that is among several groups suing the state over its prison coronavirus protocols, said negligence had aggravated an already dire situation.

“They haven’t been able to keep people in prison safe,” she said.

The patchy health care the system provides to inmates was underscored last year by the abrupt departure of its health care provider, which accused the state of refusing to spend an adequate amount of money on inmate care.

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