61 more test positive at DOC; department mulls early release for some inmates

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    Department of Corrections is looking to ease some restrictions by next month. (PNC file photo)

    The Department of Corrections has confirmed 61 more positive cases among its population after 266 people were tested Tuesday at the Mangilao jail.

    DOC Deputy Director Robert Camacho confirmed that 259 inmates and 7 officers were tested yesterday and of those, 60 inmates and one officer are positive.

    Major Antone Aguon, the Administrative Services Division Chief and Department Spokesperson confirmed that he is among those who tested positive; he’s now isolating.

    Camacho says they’re still awaiting the results of 153 tests from yesterday’s swabbing, which he expects late tonight or tomorrow morning. He says the 60 additional positive inmates came as a surprise since none are showing symptoms at all.

    He says the entire DOC headquarters is on quarantine pending testing tomorrow.

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    And as the numbers grow, Camacho says they’ve identified four different locations for isolation already.

    “For the past several months we’ve prepared for this time…this eventual thing. As you know, this is the third time we’ve had testing and the first time, it was zero…zero were infected. Then the next one we had one…then now 8…and, of course, today,” Camacho said.

    DOC is getting help from Homeland Security and DPW looking at additional isolation facilities in case more people turn up positive.

    Camacho says the infection spread is not through a lack of effort on their part.

    “We’ve taken all precautions and done all we can. We have masks, we have sanitation materials, we put out all information that we receive from Public Health about social distancing. But unfortunately, some of these situations are just too difficult…just too challenging to stop,” Camacho said.

    Public Health and the CDC were at the DOC facilities today for the second time since the pandemic began and evaluating what more can be done in their fight against the spread of the virus.

    However, there is one reality DOC faces.

    “It’s not just quarantine, it’s a security issue. We can’t mix certain inmates with other inmates…their security levels are varied…from maximum to minimum,” Camacho said.

    He added that there’s an additional level of complication since there are also positive officers who also have to isolate.

    Camacho says they’re getting their parole officers, civilian staff, and the DOC internal affairs officer involved to try to figure out the next steps for everyone’s health and safety.

    DOC barred visitation since around March this year and the only outside contact the inmates have is with their attorneys, although Camacho says they encourage Zoom meetings for those as well.

    He says while they don’t know for sure, the initial source of infection could have been a staff member who contracted it outside the correction facilities or the food delivery vendor they have if the virus was lingering on any food packages.

    Camacho says they’re working on a plan now with the Governor’s office to release certain inmates early.

    “We’re looking at that list very closely and we’re looking at who are the ones that are the oldest according to our evaluations. The other one is who is on minimum security already?…how many are pending parole and should be released within a year? So, we kind of want to narrow it down to that,” Camacho said.

    He says they’re also looking at inmates who are sick as well although releasing violent offenders isn’t on the table for Camacho.

    He says he knows that anytime the topic of releasing inmates comes up, there is a sensitivity in the community, particularly among the victims, so it’s a delicate situation to work through.

    These are not pardons, according to Camacho, who says this would be more of starting parole earlier or deporting inmates sooner for example.

    No final decisions have been made yet on releasing the around 25-to-50 inmates who are on that list.

    Camacho says around 5-10 prisoners or detainees have underlying health issues and they, too, are being considered for early release.

    COVID-testing at the Agana Detention facility begins tomorrow Thursday.

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