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COVID-19 outbreaks hitting Wisconsin prison system again; 300+ new cases

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The last time active cases were this high was Jan. 10, when the Wisconsin prison system had 308 active cases among prisoners, including a 200-case outbreak at Oakhill Correctional Institution in Oregon.

COVID-19 outbreaks are hitting the Wisconsin prison system once again, with active cases among prisoners breaking 300 for the first time this week since January, when vaccines had not yet started to get distributed to prisoners.

On Friday, the total number of active COVID-19 cases was 283, according to data from the Department of Corrections.

After starting off November with just five active cases across the state’s 37 adult prison facilities, COVID-19 infections ticked up toward the end of the month to around a few dozen. By Nov. 30, there were nearly 50 active cases.

Cases continued to rise through December and broke 300 for the first time on Monday, when there were 308 active cases. On Tuesday, there were 319.

The last time active cases were this high was Jan. 10, when the prison system had 308 active cases among prisoners, including a 200-case outbreak at Oakhill Correctional Institution in Oregon. Prisoners were not able to get vaccines at that time. They became eligible March 1.

A total of 82% of adult and youth prisoners were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Dec. 7, the most recent day data were available. Some prisoners have gotten boosted, but it’s unclear how many at this point. That information was not available.

The newest cases are spread across 17 prisons, a few with major outbreaks. Jackson Correctional Institution had the most active cases at 90, as of Friday. Dodge Correctional Institution was next at 86. Columbia Correctional Institution had 13. Taycheedah Correctional Institution had 11, and Racine Correctional Institution/Sturtevant Transitional Facility had 31.

There were 150 cases among staff on Thursday, according to self-reported data provided by the department.

Since the start of the pandemic, a total of 11,461 prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19. That’s well over half of the current population of roughly 20,000, but that number fluctuates as people are sentenced to prison or inmates are released after completing their sentences.

Thirty-two people have died after getting infected with COVID-19 while incarcerated in the Wisconsin prison system. That number hasn’t changed since July 27.

State Journal reporter Lucas Robinson contributed to this report.

Emily Hamer's favorite stories of 2021 include coverage of Afghan refugees, criminal justice

Criminal justice and county government reporter Emily Hamer is most proud of her coverage of the arrival of roughly 13,000 Afghan refugees at a military base in Wisconsin. 

Earlier this year, she also exposed concerning conditions within the state prison system during COVID-19 outbreaks last fall, including that some prisoners were put in the same cells as those who were exposed to the virus. She also explored the lasting mark the pandemic has left on the criminal justice system. 

Thirty-two people have died after getting infected with COVID-19 while incarcerated in the Wisconsin prison system.

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