Graham Kilmer
MKE County

No New Infections at House of Correction

In April had outbreak with 105 cases of COVID-19. Latest testing shows no new cases.

By - May 18th, 2020 04:52 pm
House of Correction sign.

House of Correction sign.

After an outbreak in April, Milwaukee County’s House of Correction (HOC) is reporting zero new inmates or staff currently testing positive for COVID-19.

A little more than a month ago the HOC reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19. The number of inmates showing symptoms and testing positive began to rise suggesting an outbreak was spreading through the correctional facility in Franklin.

At the end of April, with help from the National Guard, the HOC tested every single inmate in its custody and every staff member working at the site. At its peak, which came with mass testing at the facility, the HOC had 105 confirmed cases. Currently, it has 85 inmates that are recovering and zero new cases of COVID-19.

The facility continues to test inmates that show symptoms, Superintendent Michael Hafemann said. And it may go back to mass testing, should the need arise, he told the Milwaukee County Board’s committee on Judiciary, Safety and General Services.

The HOC has dealt with the outbreak by putting a cap on the number of individuals that can be housed in a dormitory. Daily cleaning and sanitation has been stepped up or doubled. And a private company, Solid Surfaces Care, was contracted to sanitize the entire facility, and will remain at the HOC for the next 30 days. “They literally go through every room and every office and they spray it down.”

Right now, the Army Corps of Engineers is finishing construction on a surge facility at the HOC for inmates in the area to go if they test positive for COVID-19. Assistant Superintendent David Rugaber said this facility will be similar to the negative pressure dormitories they set up at the HOC. But it will be a separate facility, within the HOC compound. There is a new separate booking unit for the surge facility, so that incarcerated individuals from other jurisdictions won’t have any contact with the HOC.

This facility was built out in the Latter building. There are 120 beds split up between four dormitories with 30 beds each. One is set up as an ICU facility with bedside oxygen, said Col. Aaron Reisinger of the Army Corps, which has been working with Gilbane Construction on the facility for the past 16 days and will turn it over to the HOC on Wednesday. The new facility was paid for with Federal Emergency Management Agency funds.

The population at the HOC has been reduced by nearly 50 percent during the pandemic. In January 2020 there were approximately 1,100 inmates at the HOC. Now there are 626, Hafemann said.

The huge reduction was “kind of a multi-pronged attack,” Hafemann told the committee. First, the HOC is no longer accepting new inmates, Hafemann said. They’re only accepting inmate transfers from the Milwaukee County Jail, and only after that individual has tested negative for COVID-19.

The court has issued a number of release orders, using criteria it developed with law enforcement officials. Approximately 138 inmates were released under these orders. And, a number of Huber work-release eligible inmates have been put on electronic monitoring, on top of the HOC’s existing electronic monitoring program.

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