Wisconsin records 3 more inmate COVID-19 deaths; prisoner death toll reaches 14

17 Dane County youth housed at prison under investigation

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections recorded three more inmate deaths related to COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the reported death toll across the state’s correctional facilities to 14.

The number of active COVID-19 cases among prisoners has declined somewhat from late November when cases briefly spiked at well over 2,000; on Wednesday, 897 inmates were positive for the virus and more than 2,000 in quarantine. In total, 8,668 prisoners have been infected this year.

As of Tuesday, 1,848 DOC employees have tested positive for the virus, with almost 200 active cases. Prisoners at facilities where outbreaks have been severe have complained to News 3 Investigates of poorly-implemented safety protocols, and prison advocates have called on Gov. Tony Evers to expand the conditions of release. Throughout November, cases rose in DOC facilities to numbers roughly quadruple to case counts earlier in the year.

“We are not isolated from the larger community,” said Makda Fessahaye, administrator of the DOC’s Division of Adult Institutions told News 3 Investigates late last month. “Our employees do not live in a vacuum. They and their families live in communities across the state where COVID-19 has been spreading extremely rapidly.”

Current correctional facilities with more than 100 active cases on Wednesday include Dodge Correctional Institution, Fox Lake, Prairie du Chien and Racine. The newly-reported deaths come as Wisconsin as the 7-day positivity rate statewide rises to 31% and more than 3,500 people have died from the virus.

“I would say our agency’s priority during this pandemic has been and continues to be the health and safety of our staff and those in our care,” DOC spokesperson John Beard said. “Our dedicated staff is committed to limiting spread of the virus in our institutions and caring for those there.”

In the past, the DOC has not released the facilities where inmates have died from the virus; reported deaths on the DOC Covid-19 dashboard typically include a delay from the time of death while a county medical examiner or coroner determines cause of death.

Beard said he could not say which facilities the inmates died in.