Active COVID-19 cases at Pender Correctional rise to the highest in the state

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PENDER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — Pender Correctional Institution currently has the most active COVID-19 cases among prisons in North Carolina.

According to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, a total of 208 Pender inmates have tested positive for the virus, 75 of which are presumed recovered.

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As of Monday morning, there are currently 118 inmates with COVID-19.

NCDPS says around 660 inmate are housed at the facility.

In comparison, the New Hanover Correctional Center has 21 active cases and Columbus Correctional has eight.

On Oct. 19, a Pender inmate died in the hospital after testing positive for COVID-19. Another inmate died in April due to COVID-19.

WWAY has received numerous calls from inmates, family members, and those in the community over COVID-19 concerns at the prison.

“I get a phone call today, and I’m told there were three or four inmates who were just taken out of there, and he was like, ‘The worst part of it, is that the last one taken was taken in a body bag, because he was actually in his bed dead,” one woman, who didn’t want to be identified and has a husband in Pender Correctional, said. “They got to him too late.'”

That woman says she’s worried her husband could be the next person to get COVID and potentially die.

“We can’t forget they’re also human,” she said. “Some of these things that are being done, it’s almost like it’s inhumane, and they’re just leaving them to kind of rot.”

She says he’s described the conditions inside, and it makes her worry that the COVID safety procedures aren’t being followed.

“On a daily basis, I hear from him, ‘There are guys around me who are sick and they have it.’ And he sees people next to him who aren’t even moving out of the bed,” she said. “I’m thanking God it’s not my husband, but at the same time, I’m like, ‘That could be him, whether it be tomorrow or next month.”

She says he tells her he’s confined to the same block with people who have a fever or are visibly sick, despite getting their temperatures checked. Other family members of inmates have reached out, saying they’ve heard prisoners all use the same bathrooms, medication pick-up stations and common spaces.

“You know for instance, like their boxers or something,” the inmate’s wife said. “They wash them by hand. Completely unsanitary. Puts a sock on the phone to be able to talk on the phone, and in some of the blocks, there’s only one phone.”

WWAY brought those concerns to NCDPS and they released the following statement:

“The prison system has taken more than four dozen actions to prevent COVID-19 from getting into the prisons, to help prevent it from spreading to other prisons and to confine it within a prison if it does get in. These actions are located at here. That webpage also contains a prison-by-prison chart at the bottom that shows the current number of active positive cases in the offender populations at each prison.

The chart shows 118 active cases of COVID-19 in the offender population at Pender Correctional. The chart is updated daily at 3 p.m. Around 660 offenders are housed at the facility.

This web page shows when visitation was shut down, distribution of face masks and cleaning supplies, a moratorium on the acceptance of prison-sentence offenders housed in the county jails, medical transportation protocols, the advancement of discretionary credits to eligible offenders, and much, much more.

Statewide, the entire 31,000 offender population has been tested for COVID-19 at least once. Many have been tested twice or more.

So far, almost 35,000 offenders have been tested for the virus, and the Division of Prisons has conducted more than 52,000 COVID-19 tests on offenders.”

A spokesman with the DPS explains prisoners are transferred in cohorts based on housing units, to minimize inmate contact. He says all areas like bathrooms, cafeterias, medical pick-up stations and recreational areas should be cleaned in between cohorts.

NCDPS also referred us to an outline of the Division of Prisons medical protocols on COVID-19, which you can view here.