UPDATE: Jamestown inmate speaks out after COVID-19 outbreak

Published: Nov. 18, 2020 at 4:50 PM CST
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JAMESTOWN, N.D. (Valley News Live) - UPDATE: A North Dakota inmate is speaking out tonight in fear as COVID-19 continues to run rampant through a Jamestown prison.

126 cases are currently reported at the James River Correctional Center, down from Thursday’s report of 214 cases. Data obtained by Valley News Live shows in early October, JRCC only had 12 positive COVID-19 cases. By Nov. 3, JRCC reported 66 cases, which quickly jumped to 163 by Nov. 10.

“78 inmates live on the floor and 68 of us all tested positive,” JRCC inmate Richard Gorneau Jr. said in a phone call with our reporter this week. Gorneau is currently in prison for drug offenses.

Gorneau says there’s only one dorm left at the JRCC that is covid-free, as the rest are either riddled with cases or have inmates who have been exposed.

“The whole prison’s on lockdown. We don’t get to communicate with nobody,” Gorneau said.

Gorneau says he tested positive two months ago. However, he says he never had any symptoms up until this week when he says he spiked a fever, got the chills and lost his sense of taste and smell.

“They said because I tested positive two months ago, which I think was a false positive, but they still said they wouldn’t retest me. I’m worried for my safety and they’re not doing anything to help us here,” he said.

Gorneau says while he’s not sure what the right solution is, he says he feels like because they’re inmates extra precautions and safety measures weren’t considered. He added more should have been done to make sure the prison staff were more responsible.

“They say we’re safer here, but how are we safer here when they’re the ones who leave every day! We had to catch it from them! We didn’t catch it ourselves! We don’t get to come in and out of this place every day.”

In a statement Wednesday evening, the ND Department of Corrections said:

‘Unfortunately, JRCC is seeing the direct result of how fast this virus can spread, particularly in a congregate setting. Although we have continuously updated policies to keep with the fluidness of ever-changing new information from the CDC and the Department of Health, we cannot completely keep the virus out of our facilities. Our staff work diligently to protect those in our care by following all PPE protocol, but staff still need to leave to go home, pick up their children, etc. and so it would be unrealistic to think that we would not be affected, especially with the rise in the rate of infection in our communities across the state. We know wearing masks does work to an extent, as we have seen in our facilities, but they are not 100% and that does cause some margin of error for the virus to affect those we come into contact with. Our staff at JRCC are doing an amazing job and we cannot emphasis enough how well they are doing during these times.’

The DOC also says there have not been any JRCC inmates who’ve needed hospitalization, and says at this time they are not considering releasing any inmates early― A decision Gorneau says he feels like could end badly for everyone.

“I’m wondering when we’re going to have the first inmate in North Dakota that dies from this,” Gorneau said.

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