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After previously not sharing numbers, Racine County Jail is now telling attorneys about COVID cases
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COVID-19 OUTBREAK

After previously not sharing numbers, Racine County Jail is now telling attorneys about COVID cases

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RACINE — After reporting from The Journal Times revealed that the Racine County Jail was not informing attorneys of the numbers of COVID cases that had been confirmed within the jail, nor was the jail sharing which pods had outbreaks, the jail has changed its policies and is now sharing that information with attorneys.

Emails shared with The Journal Times show that the Racine County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the jail, is now keeping attorneys informed of outbreaks inside its bars.

Individual inmates’ health information, such as who specifically has tested positive for coronavirus, still is not being shared. But the total numbers of cases and in which pods cases have been confirmed or suspected are being shared with some attorneys.

Prior to The Journal Times’ reporting, attorneys — both private and lawyers with the Public Defender’s Office — had been asking for the information but were unable to get it. They ended up relying on hearsay and what inmates were telling them in phone calls and video chats to find out what was going on.

The jail said that it would violate inmates’ privacy laws to release overall testing data, even though the state Department of Corrections and other jails had been sharing that information.

When asked why the jail is now sharing that information, Capt. Bradley Friend said in an email: “We are not sharing specific inmate health status per HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). We continue to share all of our information with the health department. In addition, I am putting out information to professionals about what housing units are being placed on isolation and when they are being taken off including the date. If a professional has been to that housing unit, they know to take the appropriate precautions.

“The attorneys continue to ask very specific health information about inmates which CANNOT be given out without a medical release of information,” Friend continued. “If an inmate is symptomatic or tests positive, there is nothing preventing them from contacting their lawyers to tell them their individual health information. Maybe some public education on HIPAA is in order. People don’t seem to understand that we cannot talk about a person’s health status without their written permission.”

The number of cases within the jail has significantly increased in recent weeks. By Tuesday, Oct. 27, there were 67 confirmed cases reported among inmates in the jail. Another two inmates were waiting for test results, there were five staff members/contractors who had tested positive and another five staff members/contractors waiting for test results.

That rise in cases has been blamed on how quickly and widely COVID-19 has been spreading throughout Wisconsin.

“We continue to evaluate the inmates and staff on a 24/7 basis,” Friend said. “Transmission rates in Wisconsin are going through the roof. Unfortunately the jail, its staff, the contractors and professional visitors coming in and out of this facility on a daily basis are not immune to this situation our state finds itself in. Cases are rising in our community, with our staff and with our inmate population.”

Also, as of Tuesday, 16 of the jail’s dayrooms in three separate wings were placed in “Isolation.” When that happens, no inmates are allowed out, including for court hearings. When this happens, the court system slows down more than it already is, which can lead to people being stuck in jail longer and increases court costs.

Things to do in and around Racine County

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