A group of women with ties to Kentucky’s Green River Correctional Complex is urging Gov. Andy Beshear to release more inmates amid the pandemic. A dozen women calling themselves “Prison Wives of Green River Correctional Complex” gathered outside the governor’s mansion and the Kentucky Capitol on Saturday afternoon, carrying homemade signs and wearing T-shirts with pictures of their loved ones who are behind bars.
As of May 22, 357 inmates and 50 staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus at Green River, a state prison in Muhlenberg County. Three men have died, although the state says the exact cause of death for one of those men is still pending.
Beshear first addressed the situation on April 16.
“I know the folks inside that institution are scared,” Beshear said. “This is a scary, scary virus. We’re going to do everything we can. And that’s masks, that’s sanitizer, that’s making sure we have different parts of the facility for those that are symptomatic or that we know have the virus.”
Beshear and executive cabinet Secretary J. Michael Brown have laid out a plan for dealing with the outbreak at Green River that includes providing masks and hand sanitizer to inmates as well as separating those who have tested positive from the general population until they can be retested.
Phoenix Shepherd’s husband is at Green River. She did not want him named for fear of retaliation from the prison staff, but she says the conditions he described don’t match what the governor has said during his daily briefings.
“He’s telling me that he was tested again but some of the men in there have not been retested, like the governor and J Michael Brown have said,” Shepherd said. “They also haven’t replaced the masks and they still don’t have hand sanitizers or bleach. They are still letting them out every two to three days so these men still aren’t taking showers like they should be.”
Beshear previously defended his administration’s response to the outbreak at Green River. “I took the extra step of asking everybody to be tested,” Beshear said on May 5. “And I will tell you most other governors out there aren’t doing that at prisons.”
After a few minutes in front of the governor’s mansion, the women walked to the steps of the Capitol, where Shepherd addressed a “Reopen Kentucky” rally that was taking place at the same time.
Shepherd laid out the group’s demands: that the governor release juvenile and first time offenders, as well as inmates who are medically vulnerable or over 55.
If they can’t send them home, Shepherd said, the governor should do more to protect the health of those locked up inside Green River.
“No inmate deserves to die at that prison because of the lack of care that the governor has for these men,” Shepherd told the crowd. “They are in prison right now because they committed a crime, however Green River is not their final destination. They are coming home.”