‘It’s very stressful’: Inmate’s family concerned as Dane County Jail works to contain COVID-19 spread

Sheriff: Planned new jail would better contain virus

MADISON, Wis. – As the Dane County Sheriff’s Office plans agency-wide testing for inmates and essential staff after more than a dozen newly discovered cases, an inmate’s family is worried about their loved one’s health.

A National Guard team will help test all inmates and essential staff, which amounts to about 600 individuals, Sheriff Dave Mahoney said. According to the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, four inmates in the same pod at the Public Safety Building Jail tested positive over the weekend. The rest of the 22 inmates in that pod were also tested, resulting in 12 additional positives, 10 of which didn’t have symptoms.

Rebecca Washington said her son Shantell Washington, currently an inmate in Dane County, called Monday to tell her he had tested positive for the virus.

“It’s very stressful,” she said.

“He has seven sisters and three brothers,” said his sister, Janell Washington. “We are all concerned. We’re scared, man. We’ve been praying for our brother.”

The Chicago family said Shantell Washington told them he’d been put in a solitary confinement cell, and they’re worried he’s not getting proper medical care.

Because of space, inmates diagnosed with COVID-19 may have to be placed in solitary confinement cells, while still receiving the same care and treatment as others, according to Mahoney.

“What I would say to those family members, is we take our responsibility to protect and provide a safe and healthy environment very seriously, and we’re doing that,” Mahoney said.

That means a 24/7 medical team, no outside visitation, plenty of masks, high tech disinfecting equipment and paying inmates to do additional cleaning.

Officials have also worked to cut the jail population in half to just about 400, in part by already releasing all inmates who meet certain criteria.

Mahoney said that’s “in an attempt to do social distancing. Even then it’s difficult.”

That’s because Mahoney said they’re confined by the aging jails and their setup. He said the City County Building Jail is more than 60 years old, and the Public Safety Building lacks a medical bed.

He said the county’s new planned jail set to open in 2024 would have been able to better contain the coronavirus.

“The infrastructure that we have, we’re doing the best that we can, but we can do better,” Mahoney said.

While it’s too late to contain the virus from inmates already infected, the Washington family has a plea going forward.

“We’re just pleading for help for our brother to get the help that he needs,” Janell Washington said.

Mahoney said group quarantine is a possibility for those who tested positive.

The facility-wide testing may begin as early as Friday.