Murray Unit in Gatesville

Female prisoners work outdoors near the entrance at the Murray Unit in Gatesville in 2016. The prison is on lockdown after 11 inmates tested positive for COVID-19.

A women’s prison in Gatesville is on a complete lockdown after 11 inmates tested positive for COVID-19 and most inmates were placed on medical restriction for potential exposure to the disease, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman said.

The Dr. Lane Murray Unit is among four Texas prisons placed on a complete lockdown because of COVID-19 concerns, the Houston Chronicle reported. The Murray Unit is the only one in Central Texas on lockdown.

At the same time, the largest union representing Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees is calling for the state to lockdown all state correctional facilities, similar to how the Federal Bureau of Prisons implemented a 14-day lockdown April 1.

The union believes placing all correctional facilities on a lockdown would be the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within those facilities, said Jeff Ormsby, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Texas Corrections.

“There is no social distancing in prison,” Ormsby said.

A lockdown looks different depending on the unit, but it generally means inmates are limited to their housing quarters, except for some meals, short periods of recreation and showers. Ormsby said he would rather inmates feel uncomfortable confined to their cells than get the new coronavirus.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 36 Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees or contractors, and 28 offenders in custody had tested positive for COVID-19, according to the department’s website.

Coryell County

In Coryell County, at least 13 people in Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison and state jail units in Gatesville have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the website. Those cases are included in the county’s total case count, which the Department of State Health Services listed as 12 as of noon Wednesday. The state health department’s published count for individual counties lags a day behind local reporting in many cases, and it is unclear if that is the cause of the discrepancy between the Department of Criminal Justice and Department of State Health Services figures.

The Dr. Lane Murray Unit, a women’s prison, has 11 inmates who tested positive for COVID-19, while another 3 tests are pending. The unit has placed 14 inmates in isolation, and another 1,141 inmates have been placed under “medical restriction,” which means their movements are limited because they may have been exposed to the coronavirus but are not showing symptoms.

A laundry supervisor at the Murray Unit also tested positive for COVID-19 on April 1 and self-quarantined.

At the Linda Woodman State Jail for women in Gatesville, at least two inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, while another four tests are pending. The jail has placed six inmates in isolation, and another 121 inmates have been placed under medical restriction. The jail’s maximum capacity is 900 inmates, according to the Department of Criminal Justice website.

The Christina Melton Crain Unit listed two pending tests but no positive COVID-19 results. Nonetheless, the unit has placed one inmate in isolation and another 71 in medial restriction, according to the website. The Crain Unit is a women’s prison with a Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility.

Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jeremy Desel said the agency has developed policies and protocols that continue to be refined based on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for correctional facilities.

Mask making

On Sunday, the department started distributing 50,000 cotton masks made in its garment factories to all staff and requiring all staff working in prison units to wear them. The cotton masks are intended to prevent the wearer from spreading the virus.

Ten prison unit factories have been working seven days a week, producing up to 20,000 additional masks per day, according to the department. Inmates under lockdown also have been issued cotton masks.

When appropriate, prison staff are issued personal protective equipment, such as respirators, gowns, gloves and face shields.

But Ormsby, the union director, said that is not enough protection for correctional officers. He wants the state to provide all correctional officers and prison staff members with N95 respirators, the ones recommended by the CDC for first responders and health care workers. He also called for the state to increase department employees’ hazardous duty pay.

“They are first responders,” he said. “When an emergency goes down in a prison, nobody else responds. We should be taking care of our correctional workers.”

Photo gallery: The latest scenes from the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. and around the world

Brooke Crum joined the Tribune-Herald as the education reporter in January 2019. She has worked for the Springfield News-Leader in Missouri, Abilene Reporter-News, Beaumont Enterprise and the Port Arthur News. Crum graduated from TCU in Fort Worth.

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