Mississippi to restart inmate transfers, with virus caution

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Department of Corrections says it will soon restart the transfer of inmates from county jails into state prisons and from one prison to another — a practice that has been on hold for about two months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The department said in a news release Friday that transfers will be done in a “limited, controlled and safe manner,” beginning in mid-June.

Mississippi has about 18,000 prisoners in custody. As of Friday, 28 inmates and 17 employees had tested positive for COVID-19, the department said. Advocates for inmate safety have questioned whether Mississippi is doing enough testing for the highly contagious virus.

Inmates will be quarantined at least 14 days before being moved out of South Mississippi Correctional Institution, Central Mississippi Correctional Facility or the privately run Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility. The release did not mention the transfer of inmates out of the other large state-run prison, the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

Because of the pandemic, the only visitors allowed in the prisons have been attorneys. That policy remains in place.

The changes were announced about 10 days after Republican Gov. Tate Reeves announced that he is nominating Burl Cain, a former warden of Louisiana’s Angola prison, to become the new Mississippi corrections commissioner. Cain is already on the job while he awaits a confirmation hearing in the Mississippi Senate.

The state Health Department said Saturday that Mississippi — with a population of about 3 million — has had nearly 15,300 confirmed cases and almost 440 deaths from the coronavirus as of Friday evening. That was an increase of 439 cases and 13 deaths from the numbers reported a day earlier.

The number of coronavirus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. For others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.

The Health Department said at least 1,859 cases of the virus have been confirmed in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, with at least 365 virus-related deaths in those facilities.

The department also said Saturday that nearly 173,470 coronavirus tests had been conducted in Mississippi as of Friday. More than 7,530 of those were blood tests that detect whether a person has antibodies that usually show up after an infection is resolved.

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