15 Texas prisons units on lockdown as Houston area parole facility sees first COVID-19 case

HOUSTON – Late Wednesday, officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced at least 15 prison facilities were placed in lock-down because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“The point of a lock-down is to restrict offender movement as much as possible within offender unit,” said TDCJ’s Jeremy Desel.

The units that are currently on lockdown are: Beto, Clements, Darrington, East Texas Transfer Facility, Estelle, Goree, Jordan, Murray, Ramsay, Robertson, Smith, Stringfellow, Telford, Woodman, and Wynne.

Desel said, moving forward, any facility where either an employee or inmate test positive for COVID-19 will be placed in lock-down, which will last for at least 14 days from the time a test is administered.

As of Wednesday, 56 TDCJ employees and 47 inmates have tested positive for the virus. Dozens more are awaiting test results.

“There are currently over 127 offenders in medical isolation which is the combination of both pending and positive COVID-19 tests and a little over 12,000 offenders who are on medical restriction," Desel said.

TDCJ’s lockdown and heightened measures announcement came after officials reported a parolee living at a northeast Harris County facility tested positive for COVID-19 Wednesday.

The individual was staying at the Southeast Texas Transitional Center on Beaumont Highway. This center houses parolees who are transitioning from prison back into society.

TDCJ officials said 493 parolees currently live at the facility and on April 3, one person was rushed to the hospital.

“He was suffering stroke-like symptoms, down the road there he was tested and he did come back positive for COVID-19,” Desel said.

There are 147 other parolees in the housing unit who have been placed under medical restrictions as a result, Desel said. This means they can’t leave the facility to go to work like other parolees, all of their meals and other needs are brought to them and their temperature is checked twice a day.

“They are all asymptomatic. Should they show any symptoms and/or have a temperature, they would obviously be taken for more medical treatment an put into medical isolation,” Desel said.

TDCJ has taken several steps to try to prevent further spread in all of its facilities, Desel said, including having inmates make masks for employees and offenders. Desel said the agency retooled several prison factories to accomplish this task.

“We do have 10 of those facilities up and running and right now we’re able to produce as many as 20,000 of these masks, they’ve been distributed; that’s on a daily basis,” said Desel.

Wednesday morning TDCJ reported what is suspected to be the first COVID-19 related death in the state prison system.

Bartolo Infante, 72, tested positive for COVID19 on April 3 and passed away late Tuesday, according to TDCJ officials. Prison officials said Infante suffered from pre-existing health conditions and was housed in the Telford Unit in New Boston.

This death comes on the heels of TDCJ reporting the death of Correction Officer Kelvin Wilcher. TDCJ officials said Wilcher, 49, was admitted to the hospital on April 1 after he “suffered a cardiac event.” Prison officials said while in intensive care, Wilcher tested positive for COVID-19 and died Monday.

A complete breakdown of the number of TDCJ employees and offenders who have tested positive for COVID-19 and the number awaiting test results can be found here.

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Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”