Health Investigations

The state expected to retest all the inmates at the Green River Correctional Complex by last Friday.

Almost a week after that deadline, retesting has not been completed. Department of Corrections Director of Communications Lisa Lamb said that, to date, 105 of the 982 Green River inmates have not been retested. 

The department is still awaiting test results for 470 of those retested.

Inmates inside the prison have told loved ones that the facility has run out of tests and doesn’t know when more will arrive. In an emailed response to KyCIR questions, Lamb has not addressed the availability of testing or respond to a follow up question about it.

The coronavirus outbreak at the Green River Correctional Complex has infected 363 inmates and 51 staff, and an early spike there prompted Gov. Andy Beshear to have the entire prison tested for the virus. The Department of Corrections says 192 inmates and 42 staff have recovered. Three inmates died.

“We continue to diligently monitor the situation at Green River Correctional Complex. We have taken action in consultation with the Department for Public Health to minimize the health risks and to contain the spread of the virus,” Lamb said via email. 

Lamb said each inmate has been provided three masks to ensure they always have a clean one, and they are required to wear masks while out of their cell. They also have germicide and extra soap, she said. Hand sanitizer is available upon request from an officer’s station but is not directly provided to inmates “due to the risks of consumption,” Lamb said.

Inmates who tested positive were separated from the general population and into crowded cells where they stay for all but 20 minutes a day. Those conditions will continue at least until everyone in the facility is retested. It’s unclear how many of the 105 inmates awaiting retesting are those who had COVID-19 and need a negative test to leave the separate area.
The uncertainty is an added layer of stress for inmates and their loved ones on the inside.

J. Tyler Franklin | wfpl.org

The women behind the Prison Wives of the Green River Correctional Complex address a Reopen Kentucky rally from the steps of the state capitol.

Kayleigh Watson’s boyfriend tested positive for the coronavirus in April. He’s mostly recovered since then, although he has lost a lot of weight, and she says he keeps a positive attitude. 

But Watson struggles. “I cry like twice a day just wondering.”

Watson’s boyfriend is five years into a 10-year sentence. He called Wednesday night to ask if she had heard anything about retesting, because he said the medical staff at Green River told him they had run out of tests.

The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting reported last week that Beshear has released 1,154 individuals from Kentucky prisons and jails through commutations. Most of those released by the commutations were in local jails. 

Only 16 were released from Green River.

Still, Watson said she respects the steps Beshear has taken so far. “He tried to pacify the situation by releasing everybody from those county jails,” Watson said, “which is still good but Green River is where his attention was needed.”

Watson says if her boyfriend has to stay in Green River during the pandemic, it’s the state’s responsibility to keep him safe. “I just want him to be treated like he matters,” Watson said. “Because he does.”

Contact Jared Bennett at jbennett@kycir.org.