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Connecticut’s largest prison suffered COVID lockdown, staffing issues

CT Mirror
MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, the largest correctional facility in New England.

Connecticut’s largest prison, MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution, was placed on a multi-week lockdown this winter due to a high number of COVID-19 cases.

According to data from the Department of Corrections, more than 650 employees and 700 inmates have tested positive for COVID since Dec. 1. As of January 27, 300 employees and inmates are currently recovering from COVID.

At MacDougall, an infirmary has been responsible for treating more than 100 people at a time.

Collin Provost is the president of AFSCME Local 391, a union representing thousands of Connecticut correctional officers. Provost said the high volume of cases among staff has led to forced overtime.

"It does have a major effect on the psyche of individuals day in and day out," Provost said.

Because the cases spread to different living areas, MacDougall went into phase three — the most restrictive lockdown — in which inmates are in their cells for most of the day.

DOC spokesperson Ashley McCarthy said the lockdown was the safest option for everyone involved.

"The [cases] were scattered in different living areas, so it made the most sense to go to what we internally would call 'phase three,' which is the most restrictive, in order to stop further spread," McCarthy said. "It's the most minimal movement we can do in order to keep people safe."

Activists said the confined living conditions and lack of cleaning products have allowed the virus to spread faster and create an unsafe living environment.

Around half of Connecticut's prison population have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.