State Prisons Charging Inmates for Masks

Corrections officials say inmates each got three washable masks, must pay after that.

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Sep 22nd, 2020 02:33 pm
Green Bay Correctional Institution. Photo from the Department of Corrections.

Green Bay Correctional Institution. Photo from the Department of Corrections.

As the number of COVID-19 cases in state prisons soars past 1,000, the Department of Corrections (DOC) has begun requiring incarcerated people to pay for the masks used to slow the spread of the disease, according to inmates and their loved ones.

“We here…have been informed that…we will be required to purchase our own face masks, that the DOC will no longer provide them and certainly not for free,” one inmate wrote. “We will now be required to purchase a single mask for $2.50 (an allegedly one size fits all).”

DOC confirmed the purchase plan.

The agency has provided at least three washable masks to each incarcerated person since April, a DOC spokesperson said in an email.

“There is a plan to offer extra cotton face coverings available for purchase, if those in our care want more than the three,” said the spokesperson, who did not identify himself or herself. “But there will be a limit of seven. These could be purchased by those in our care, or family members could purchase for them.”

The spokesperson did not answer questions about why the department would no longer provide free masks or what would happen if an inmate needs one, but refuses to buy it.

Some 1,053 prison inmates and 81 staff members had tested positive for the coronavirus as of Friday, as we previously reported.

While $2.50 may not sound like much, some inmates simply have no money, others have financial obligations such as victim restitution or court surcharges, and others have extremely low-paying prison jobs.

“Nothing in this policy makes any provision, that I am aware of, for the many prisoners who are indigent and unable to purchase these masks (of whom their are many),”the inmate wrote.

“The mask must be purchased from the ‘approved vendors’…all of which are notorious for hugely marking up the prices of all of its products,” the inmate said.

Another inmate said, as have others, that his institution is not removing from the general population incarcerated people who test positive for coronavirus.

The inmate said a nurse told him not to worry about getting tested because “staff was not moving anyone that tests positive. I’m like, ‘WHAT!’ I said ‘Well then, if you’re not going to keep inmates that have tested positive separated from the inmates that aren’t sick, what is the purpose for all the testing?!’ She said, ‘I don’t know!'”

Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.”

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