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After a South Dakota Jail Confirmed a Coronavirus Case, 8 Inmates Escaped

Time logo Time 25/3/2020 Josiah Bates
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Authorities are searching for five jail inmates who walked out of the Pierre Community Work Center, a minimum-security facility in South Dakota on Monday evening after another inmate tested positive for COVID-19.

According to the South Dakota Department of Corrections (DOC), three of the eight inmates who escaped were found on Tuesday, and are in custody on Crow Creek Reservation. No further information on the other five, who are still missing, has been provided.

The inmates were able to escape by “exiting an exterior door” at the facility, which house parolees as well as inmates on work release or community service duties, according to a statement by the South Dakota DOC.

Earlier that day, another inmate had tested positive for the COVID-19, and is currently in isolation. This is the first confirmed positive case in the South Dakota DOC.

During a Tuesday press conference, South Dakota Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said the COVID-19 positive inmate is doing well. “We are currently working with all potential individuals who may have come into contact with this inmate… staff as well as other inmates,” Malsam-Rysdon said.

The South Dakota DOC did not respond to TIME’s request for comment on whether the facility’s population as a whole had been informed of the diagnosis, or if the women who escaped had known thereof before absconding.

Instead, the DOC point to a statement shared online, which reads that, “The DOC is focused on protecting all inmates and staff at every one of our facilities. If an inmate becomes symptomatic, we will follow the proper protocols from guidelines outlined by the CDC.”

These protocols include avoiding contact with other people (otherwise known as social distancing), washing hands often and wearing a mask. However, it has been widely argued that many of these measures are challenging to implement in the prison and jail system due to conditions therein — inmates living too close to one another, a lack of access to soap, water, and cleaning supplies as well as unwashed shared areas within the facilities.

South Dakota currently has 41 positive cases of COVID-19 and one death, according to the state’s Department of Health.

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