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Indiana’s inmates still eating meals together amid pandemic

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s prison populations are still eating meals together in large groups and mixing during outdoor recreation even as Hoosiers are keeping their distance as a stay-at-home order took effect Wednesday aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

The Indiana Department of Correction suspended visitation at its prisons two weeks ago to limit the possibility of the virus being brought into the state’s 20 correctional facilities. A recent directive from the agency’s commissioner also outlined pandemic procedures, including monitoring for outbreaks and separating ill offenders from other inmates.

But hundreds of inmates are still together during outdoor recreation time and offenders take their meals together in large groups, The Journal Gazette reported Wednesday.

Agency spokesman David Bursten said that during outdoor recreation periods, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on social distancing of six feet (1.8 meters) or more “are being followed as permitted.”

He said that regarding inmate meal times, Indiana’s “correctional housing facility does not allow for meal service in groups of 10 or less.”

The department points out that there are no known cases of COVID-19, the disease the virus causes, among the nearly 27,000 offenders housed at the state’s prison, but it also concedes that it hasn’t tested any of those inmates.

Bursten said agency 13 staff members have been tested for COVID-19 and some staff were positive. But he provided no other details on cases of the virus among employees with the department, which has more than 5,600 employees, according to the state website.

“The Indiana Department of Correction will manage infectious diseases in correctional facilities through a comprehensive approach which includes prevention, testing, appropriate treatment, education, and infection control measures,” the agency wrote on its website.

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