Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee

The Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee.

Three inmates at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee have tested positive for COVID-19 and have not yet recovered, and five tests are pending, according to Aug. 4 testing data made available by the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

Five staff members at the facility have also tested positive, four of whom have recovered and returned to work.

An outbreak at the Faribault correctional facility, where 206 inmates tested positive for the virus, has stoked fear inside the Shakopee women’s prison, several inmates have told the Valley News. Of those positive cases, 202 inmates have since recovered and two inmates have died, according to DOC data.

An inmate at the Shakopee facility, Kelly Baer, said she fears the outbreak could kill her and some of her peers.

“We breathe recycled air... our windows are screwed shut,” she wrote in an Aug. 1 email to the Valley News.

Like many fellow inmates at the facility, Baer has applied for conditional medical release, citing a heart condition, but she has not been approved. As of Aug. 4, 36 inmates at the Shakopee facility have been approved for conditional medical release out of 234 applicants, according to DOC data, and 32 inmates have been approved for conditional work release out of 55 applicants. Two Shakopee inmates have been released as part of a COVID-19 sanction reduction program. The early releases are part of the DOC’s effort to reduce prison populations in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 in its facilities.

There are 444 inmates at the Shakopee facility.

Tyler Winkelman, the co-director of the Health, Homelessness, and Criminal Justice Lab at Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute and a doctor at Hennepin County Jail, told the Valley News in April that when COVID-19 enters Shakopee’s prison, the size of the outbreak would depend on the public health measures already in place.

“If there are large group gatherings still taking place, if folks don’t have access to hand sanitizer, if they aren’t receiving education about covering their cough, it will be a big outbreak,” he said. “If there are strong measures in place already, like minimizing groups, isolating older or more sick patients in different parts of the prison, screening staff… it could be that the scope of coronavirus in facilities could be relatively small.”

A spokesman for the DOC said in April the inmates have access to hand sanitizer, have been given more bars of soap and more hand washing stations have been placed throughout the facility. He said staff members have developed plans to maximize social distancing while maintaining access to programming and supervision. No in-person visitations are allowed at the prison at this time to prevent the spread.

Any staff member who walks into a correctional facility must first be screened, which involves asking each staff member if they are showing symptoms such as a cough, and taking temperatures.

Minimizing groups and continuing to practice social distancing in a prison like Shakopee’s isn’t easy, Baer said. Hallways are narrow and cells are tiny. Things like railings and walls are frequently touched by inmates.

When someone within the facility tests positive for COVID-19, a spokesman for the DOC said they are placed into segregation. The DOC has not yet provided the Valley News with further clarification about what happens when inmates come into contact with infected individuals.

Maddie DeBilzan graduated with a journalism degree from Bethel University. She’s interned at Salon Media and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Outside of work, she sifts through Goodwill clothing racks, listens to Ben Rector's music and goes on long runs.