Families concerned about loved ones as outbreak grows in Lee County prison

Posted at 6:59 PM, Nov 17, 2020

LEE COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — Kentucky's coronavirus data paints a concerning picture of what is happening inside of Kentucky's 14 state prisons. According to data from the Department of Corrections, one in every five of the inmates housed there has been infected with COVID-19.

The data also shows active outbreaks in several of the prisons.

"The news from the corrections front is not good," said J. Michael Brown, secretary of the Governor's Executive Cabinet.

State numbers show that as of November 16, 2,028 inmates and 281 prison staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 in Kentucky's prisons.

COVID prison chart Lee County.JPG

The Beshear administration says the biggest problem right now is the outbreak in the Lee Adjustment Center. According to state data, out of a population of 754 inmates, 474 are infected with the coronavirus as of November 16.

"Our fear, quite frankly, is that we haven't finished testing that facility," said Brown. "That facility houses over 700 inmates, so we already know that more than half of them have tested positive for COVID."

One of the positive cases at the prison is Leah Conner's husband, James.

"At first, he thought maybe it was the flu or a bug. Then, he realized everyone around him felt the exact same," said Conner. "And then they realized their symptoms - because they watch the news - were COVID related symptoms."

Conner says her husband is doing okay but is surrounded by sick people.

"Essentially, he said every person around him has a cough, they all have fevers, they all feel like Jello," said Conner.

Naturally, Conner is worried about her husband being in the middle of an outbreak. She worries that the stigma of being an inmate is causing people to forget about prisoners during this time.

She doesn't want special treatment and understands her husband is doing time because of a mistake he made. However, she wants the state to remember that inmates are people too.

"You make a mistake; you deal with the consequence," said Conner. "However, the judge in our situation did not sentence him to COVID. She did not sentence him to be treated, or mistreated, or neglected, or forgotten."

Conner is not the only one concerned about a loved one in the Lee Adjustment Center. Last week, a Lexington mother told LEX 18 that she was worried about her son's health at the prison.

“This is serious, and it needs to be addressed,” Kathy Watkins said. “The inmates are not getting any attention. They're ignored, and it's really a confined area. What happens if it gets worse?"

"I want them to realize those inmates belong to people out here in the public," said Watkins.

The Lee Adjustment Center is privately owned by CoreCivic but is under contract with Kentucky to house state inmates. The Public Affairs Manager at CoreCivic pointed LEX 18 to itswebsite, where the company outlines what it is doing to keep its employees and inmates safe.

Shortly before this story aired, the Kentucky Department of Corrections sent out a press release stating that the DOC has arranged for mass testing of all inmates and staff at the Lee Adjustment Center. The prison has been separated into four distinct housing areas:

1) positive inmates
2) negative inmates with direct exposure
3) negative inmates with no exposure
4) medically vulnerable inmates.