Concerns mount as COVID-19 cases increase at Williamsburg Co. federal prison

VIDEO: Concerns mount as COVID-19 cases increase at Williamsburg Co. federal prison

SALTERS, S.C. (WCSC) - Relatives of people incarcerated at a Lowcountry federal prison say they are concerned as reports of COVID-19 cases behind the walls of the facility have skyrocketed over the last week.

Federal Correctional Institution Williamsburg, which is owned and operated by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Prisons, disclosed Monday afternoon that there are 86 active coronavirus cases among inmates and eight cases among employees.

“We are looking into this and communicating with the facility,” said Cristi Moore, a spokesperson for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. “DHEC will provide guidance on best practices for infection control to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to inmates and staff.”

“It’s a huge problem,” said Kevin Ring of FAMM, a national criminal justice advocacy group that works with family members of prisoners. “This is the worst time to be in prison.”

There are more than 1,350 prisoners at FCI Williamsburg, which consists of a medium-security section and a minimum-security camp. The complex reported only 13 COVID-19 cases among inmates a week ago.

“We’re seeing a wave come across the country,” Ring explained. “This is really the second wave. Cases have spiked in facilities all across the country and for Williamsburg, this is a big spike. Others have seen bigger spikes.”

However, the number of coronavirus cases among staff members reported by the Federal Bureau of Prisons has long remained consistent at FCI Williamsburg, which is one of the largest employers in Williamsburg County.

“Staff are going in and out of these facilities, so they are the carriers,” said Ring. “Once it gets in, it spreads like wildfire.”

Sandra Queen, who has a loved one at FCI Williamsburg and lives hundreds of miles away, says she found out about the uptick in confirmed cases after reading a story on Live5News.com.

“I feel real bad because I can’t go see him, we can’t go visit,” said Queen. “We used to go down there and visit. Right now, we can’t go down there and visit now because of the COVID-19.”

A memo that was issued in September by the warden of the facility said that non-contact visitation would be allowed with some restrictions. However, FCI Williamsburg’s website currently states that “all visiting at this facility has been suspended until further notice.”

The Federal Bureau of Prisons declined a request for an interview with Live 5 Investigates. In response to written questions, spokesperson Scott Taylor stated in part that “similar to our other facilities, FCI Williamsburg is currently operating on a modified operation.”

“COVID-19 transmission rates among staff and inmates in the Bureau of Prisons’ correctional institutions generally mirror those found in your communities,” said Taylor, adding that “the majority of the BOP’s positive inmates are asymptomatic and healthy.”

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