Inmates’ families worry about COVID-19 spread in Fordland, Mo. prison facility

Published: Sep. 17, 2020 at 9:57 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - An increase in coronavirus cases at the state prison in Fordland is concerning those who have loved ones on the inside. The Missouri Department of Corrections said the increase is because they’re doing more testing, but some families think the virus is spreading from the staff.

Nikolai Neal hears from her husband Zach nearly every day from inside Ozark Correctional Center.

“It is heartwrenching to watch and say, ‘I love you, I’m sorry, I’m doing everything that I can,’ but I know that’s not enough," Neal said.

Of the 27,107 inmates tested across the state, 667 are positive. 40 of those are inmates in Fordland. Neal’s husband is waiting for his test results.

“Once it gets brought in, it spreads very quickly," she said.

Dr. Randall Williams, the head of Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services, said in a news conference this week, he’s proud of how the state’s Department of Corrections has handled the pandemic.

“I’m just incredibly thankful that we’ve had the experience we’ve had in Missouri than in other places," Williams said.

Neal said her husband’s experience has been nothing less than terrifying.

“What is in their control, they’re not doing,” she said.

According to the DOC’s website, masks are required in state prisons when social distancing “can’t be guaranteed.”

“No one from any facility in Missouri is hearing that the staff members are wearing masks," Neal said.

Heather Fausett’s fiance is also serving a sentence at OCC She is frustrated.

“They shut down visits because of this yet the CO’s are not wearing masks," Fausett said. "They’re coming in from the same streets we are.”

In a text message, a Department of Corrections spokesperson wrote inmates who test positive are put in isolation and those exposed to a positive case, or waiting for their result, are moved to a separate quarantine area. That’s not what these women are hearing from the men they love.

“You know, they’re putting not sick people in with the sick people,” Fausett said.

The DOC denies that.

Both women plan to protest outside the Fordland facility on Friday anyway, calling for precautions to be put in place, and enforced.

“If it were their loved ones, they would be protecting them. That’s all we’re asking for," Fausett said. "They can’t protect themselves.”

At the very least, they want staff members to wear masks.

“Incarerated lives matter. They do. They matter just as much as you and I," Neal said.

That protest is planned for 9:30 a.m. outside the prison facility Friday.

For more information about that protest, click

The DOC denied multiple requests for an interview.

For more on its pandemic response inside prisons, click

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