WA State Pen

WALLA WALLA, WA- Prisoners from 5 units out of 14 units at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla went on a food strike starting June 22nd. The prisoners said the staff and facilities were not doing enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside the complex. 

Two family members of prisoners at the facility reached out to NBC Right Now saying their family member inside the facility can not reach out to them as much anymore. As phone calls are monitored and less frequent. They said recent phone calls are essentially rooted with fear of them catching the virus. They also told them that staff was not caring for those who are already sick and do not wear gloves or masks while around the prisoners.

The identity of the families and prisoners are not mentioned as they have asked to remain anonymous. 

Two prisoners told NBC Right Now that they were scared to eat the food after seeing staff not wearing proper gear or giving them proper protective gear. One prisoner said he has been scared to be in his unit because of the negligence of the air system; as he said it has not been changed and he worried he would catch the virus from recycled air. 

The prisoners on the food strike said they want the staff at the Penitentiary to properly send them safe food. The prisoners said they heard from staff that their food was coming from Coyote Ridge Correctional Center in Connell and Airway Heights Facility in Spokane, where COVID-19 cases have been increasing substantially over the past two weeks. 

NBC Right Now reached out to the Washington State Department of Corrections Emergency Response Center for an update on the COVID-19 Response at the Penitentiary.

The DOC spokesperson said they did know about the food strike and said all food and medical supplies and protective gear has been coming from Airway Heights in Spokane, but not Coyote Ridge as the facility has seen 110 prisoners and 45 staff test positive for COVID-19 and even 2 deaths inside the complex due to the virus. 

The DOC also said all food operations at the Coyote Ridge facility has stopped due to the outbreak and has not been transported to the Penitentiary in weeks. 

The DOC said the food was being checked by third party vendors out of Airway Heights Correctional Center. 

In a statement to NBC Right Now the DOC Communications Director, Janelle Guthrie said, "All food service staff take health and hygiene seriously and are wearing proper PPE. We respect the rights of individuals to voice their concerns and encourage them to do so in a way that respects and protects the safety and security of other incarcerated individuals and our staff."

The DOC communications Director said the DOC Emergency Response Center is working with the staff at each Correctional Center to ensure health and safety of everyone at those facilities. They are also working closely with the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health. 

Right now the DOC website states that 2 staff members and 2 prisoners at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla tested positive for COVID-19. 

For more information on the DOC and local facilities response to COVID-19 here and go to the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health website

This is a developing story.

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