As a COVID-19 outbreak rampaged through the Prince William-Manassas jail in January and February, jail officials revealed that they were holding hundreds of incarcerated people in quarantine and allowing them only two showers and two changes of clothes per week as they attempted to slow the spread of the virus.
Now, after public outcry, jail Superintendent Col. Pete Meletis says staff are ensuring that more showers and fresh changes of clothes are being offered above the state-mandated minimum for those who are being quarantined.
“We are enhancing inmate showers by reassigning several staff members,” Meletis said Wednesday.
Lt. Jeffrey Kepler said Friday that "the goal is for inmates to be afforded the opportunity to four showers a week while in quarantine."
Meletis also said the number of people in quarantine, effectively solitary confinement, was slated to fall to 22 as of today, Friday. Feb. 19, unless there are any new positive cases, down from 199 incarcerated people being held in quarantine last reported on Feb. 9.
Jail staff continues to place all people entering the jail into quarantine based on guidance from public health officials. It remains unclear how many are in quarantine who have recently entered the jail. Prince William County’s Chief Public Defender Tracey Lenox expressed concern about the practice earlier this month.
As of Wednesday, Feb. 17, eight staff and 20 incarcerated people at the jail were still sick. Since the beginning of the outbreak in January, at least 55 incarcerated people and 15 staff have tested positive, including four staff who were hospitalized. All four have since returned to work, according to Meletis.
The jail has vaccinated at least 151 incarcerated people since the beginning of February. There were 598 people being held at the jail as of Wednesday, Feb. 17. Meletis said in a statement, however, that “a sizable number of inmates have refused the vaccination.”
Alyssa Leader, an attorney at the public defender’s office, wrote on Twitter on Feb. 12 that jail officials have said their incarcerated clients “are refusing the vaccine because they think they’re more likely to get bond if they’re unvaccinated.”
But Leader said in a follow-up email that it is her belief that there is not her wide-spread refusal to take the vaccine among incarcerated people. Leader noted after publication that the opinions are her own and do not reflect the opinions of the public defender's office.
Attorneys at the Prince William public defender's office were the first to raise concerns about the lack of showers and fresh clothing being given at the jail. Several, including Lenox, said that many of their incarcerated clients were going three or four days at a time without a shower or a change of clothes.
Members of the county’s human rights commission said incarnated people at the jail had also started reaching out to commissioners to consider filing a human rights complaint.
Human rights Commissioner Evelyn BruMar said Friday that the commission could begin investigating the conditions at the jail if a formal complaint is made. But she said no formal complaints have been filed yet because those who have reached out about the conditions at the jail fear retaliation from jail staff.
“I’ve met with people who want to file a complaint but are afraid to file a complaint because of retaliation,” BruMar said.
BruMar said that the human rights commission could explore other avenues to find out what is happening at the jail, including bringing their concerns to the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, which could direct county staff to get more information.
But, she said, the commission has not yet discussed the issue.
The Human Rights Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for March 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the McCoart building.
The number of COVID-19 cases and vaccinations at the jail and information about how the jail is responding to the outbreak is now being publicly updated at the jail’s website.
Reach Daniel Berti at firstname.lastname@example.org
Update: This article was updated Friday evening to reflect new information provided by jail staff noting that the jail hopes to offer at least four showers per week for incarcerated people.