‘Extreme stress’: Inmates at state’s first prison to face an outbreak watch


COVID-19 cases are spiking in several Washington prisons, with hundreds of new cases reported over the past week.

People incarcerated at Monroe Correctional Complex, now bracing for a second outbreak, are still reeling from the first.

Donna Leroy’s boyfriend is one of 66 inmates who have tested positive for coronavirus in Monroe since the pandemic began. While he sat in isolation during his quarantine in July, Leroy said her boyfriend did not receive a shower for 10 days.

In that time, she said he only received a change of clothing once. Rather than getting bottled water, he was drinking from the sink in his cell, Leroy wrote in an email to Michael Obenland, then-superintendent of the facility, on July 29.

“They’re being treated like animals,” Leroy wrote to the superintendent.

Stories like Leroy’s have contributed to an atmosphere of “extreme stress and dread” that has not let up since the first outbreak at Monroe, said Twyla Kill, whose immunocompromised husband is incarcerated in the minimum-security camp there.

With COVID-19 cases surging in other prisons, including one that holds prisoners between transfers, Kill said inmates at Monroe fear their facility will be next in the new round of outbreaks.

Monroe was the first prison in Washington to endure an outbreak. After the first few cases in April, around 200 inmates rioted.

After eight months, Kill said the stress is wearing prisoners down.

When asked about the current mood at Monroe, Susan Biller, Department of Corrections spokesperson, wrote in an email: “Though the introduced pandemic protocols is a new way of operating, the population has grown to understand and adjust.”

“Overall, the agency has seen a reduction in operational disruptions and negative behaviors,” Biller wrote.

IsolationIn a report on COVID deaths at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, staff told the Office of Corrections Ombuds that solitary confinement was “not conducive to healthy recovery” and instead was “a hindrance to self-reporting.”

As of Friday, the Department of Corrections recorded having 394 symptomatic incarcerated people in solitary confinement.

“‘The hole’ is the worst form of discipline used in the prison system,” Kill said, having been incarcerated years ago herself. “It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s silent – you’re stuck in there with your thoughts, and if you’re sick, that’s got to be scary. It’s torture.”

In 2011, a United Nations expert on torture said solitary confinement should be banned as a form of torture that is not rehabilitative.

Kill said she understood the Department of Corrections was “scrambling” when Monroe had the first outbreak in its prison system.

“It’s not a permanent solution,” she said. “Solitary confinement is such a huge factor – nobody with symptoms wants to report them…



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