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The Missouri Department of Corrections is doing its part to keep its inmate population healthy, while also coordinating inmate efforts to help the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As we reported Wednesday, inmates at the chemical plant inside Eastern Reception, Diagnostic & Correctional Center in Bonne Terre are making 6,800 gallons of alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Several private donations have assisted the effort.
Three of the 22 Missouri Vocational Enterprises factories have modified their operations to respond to the pandemic.
The prison factory in Cameron has increased its output of toilet paper by 20 percent — that's 600-800 additional cases each week — for a total of 3,500 cases produced each week, or 336,000 rolls.
The manufactured products are sent to government agencies and nonprofit organizations, not sold commercially.
To keep inmates safe, the state prison system is implementing pandemic plans that already were in place. Some of those plans have been modified to fit this emergency.
One modification is to identify isolation cells — a housing unit wing or an entire housing unit, if needed.
Other protective measures being implemented: limited education program class sizes; suspension of all interstate compact transfers; suspension of all in-state transfers, except for "extenuating circumstances;" offender health screenings at intake; temperature screenings of staff, volunteers and vendors; screenings for people attempting to enter a Probation and Parole office; and strict cleaning schedules.
About one-fifth of the prison population — 6,000-plus offenders — are 50 or older. Statistically, the older someone is, the more at risk they are for serious complications or death from COVID-19.
Earlier this week, DOC Director Anne Precythe said there were no cases of COVID-19 within the state prison system.
Eighteen offenders had been tested for COVID-19 — 13 had negative results, and four test results were pending. One inmate previously tested positive, but has since tested negative. Two DOC staff members had also tested positive, but neither work within a prison.
We commend Precythe and her department for their diligence in keeping inmates safe, while also working to do the same for all Missourians.