Correctional officers in Alaska ask for help to avoid bringing COVID-19 home with them

Corrections officers wait outside of a cell during a weekly inspection at the Lemon Creek Correction Center on June 18, 2016 in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)
Corrections officers wait outside of a cell during a weekly inspection at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau on June 18, 2016. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Correctional officers are worried about bringing COVID-19 home to their families.

Last week, the union that represents correctional officers in Alaska reached out to the state’s Department of Corrections asking for help securing temporary housing for officers.

Randy McLellan is the president of the Alaska Correctional Officers Association, or ACOA. He works at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River and said social distancing is just not possible in correctional settings.

“It’s not going to take long, once (the coronavirus) gets into one of these facilities, to spread like wildfire,” McLellan said. “It’s just the nature of the community inside the walls.”

As of last week, seven staff members had tested positive for COVID-19 at Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau. Nearly half of the staff had been tested at that point.

Meanwhile, five inmates have been tested so far. All of the tests came back negative.

ACOA also reached out to community partners in search of temporary housing. McLellan said the Juneau School District offered space in a middle school.

A school district spokesperson said it was considering allowing officers to use Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School’s locker rooms and gym for temporary housing. All Juneau schools have been closed since March.

But McLellan said when the union informed DOC about the plan, they were told that the state had already found temporary housing.

As of Wednesday, he said the union has not been told where or when it will be ready.

Corrections spokesperson Sarah Gallagher did not provide details about the housing when asked Wednesday.

She wrote in an email that the housing is available to any staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who have been identified as a close contact of someone who has, but no one has taken advantage of it yet.

McLellan is frustrated with the slow response to something that he said should have been addressed weeks ago.

“(Officers are) scared to death to take it home. We’ve had several officers stay at hotels waiting for test results already, outside of Juneau,” he said.


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