Another Alaska prison is experiencing a large-scale COVID-19 outbreak.
Hiland Mountain Correctional Center, a women’s prison in Eagle River, has 109 active cases of COVID-19 as of Monday. That’s up from just three cases a week ago. The prison can house 400 inmates, according to the Department of Corrections.
In an email, Department of Corrections spokesperson Sarah Gallagher wrote that with the high rates of COVID-19 transmission in Alaska, “DOC is not surprised to see that pattern replicated in our institutions.”
Randy McLellan, a correctional officer at Hiland Mountain, said the prison has been on lockdown since the new cases were reported, so inmates are restricted in what they can do.
“To leave to have communal meals can’t happen, recreation or any programs they want to participate in or religious services — all that stuff is affected, it’s all limited,” he said. “They get no visitors. They’re essentially cut off from everything because of this outbreak.”
Currently, three of the state’s 12 prisons have over 100 active COVID-19 cases, including the Anchorage Correctional Center and Goose Creek in Point McKenzie. Goose Creek, the state’s largest prison, has reported a total of over one thousand cases, with 402 active cases as of Monday.
McLellan, who’s also the president of the Alaska Correctional Officers Association, said he’s worried that lockdowns across the corrections system are affecting inmates’ mental health, as well as that of the corrections officers. He said staffing levels at some prisons around the state are stretched thin, which he worries could lead to trouble.
“It creates kind of an unsafe environment in the facilities, and if the facility is unsafe for a correctional officer to work in, then it’s not safe for a prisoner to live in or try to rehabilitate in,” he said.
Three inmates have died of COVID-19, according to DOC, and 22 more have been hospitalized.
Gallagher wrote that DOC continues to adjust its protocols, testing and treatment, and that staff and employees in infirmaries were vaccinated last week.
This story has been updated to add information from a Department of Corrections spokesperson