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Mayoral candidate expresses virus concerns about prison

NATCHEZ — A concerned citizen who is also a Natchez mayoral candidate said he sent a letter to elected state and congressional leaders last week expressing concerns about the Adams County Correctional Center and how it is operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I heard just yesterday of more frightened employees scared to go on record with what they are witnessing,” said Dan Gibson, a lobbyist and bed and breakfast owner who is running for Natchez mayor. “I did it (sent the letter) as a concerned citizen and out of my concern for the safety of our community, especially those working at the detention center.”

The Adams County Correctional Center is under contract with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement federal agency to house ICE detainees for the federal government. ICE operates under federal guidelines so Natchez, Adams County and state governments have little say in how ICE, and therefore, the Adams County Correctional Center, operate.

In the introductory portion of his letter, Gibson wrote, “We are told by reliable sources that 250 ICE detainees were delivered to the Adams County Correctional Facility yesterday (March 26). Core Civic, the prison management company, says they were tested, and our sources say they were not. . . . The prison is routinely releasing detainees who are being bonded out by national humanitarian groups. Yesterday, 10 were released without paperwork, money, food or anywhere to go. . . . Future released detainees will likely be left to live on the streets of Natchez and Adams County with no means of care.”

Gibson went on to write that employees of the correctional center are concerned for their own health and safety.

“. . . These employees are very scared of being contaminated by the Coronavirus and are anonymously reporting their fears to various sources, including statements that Core Civic is not following medical procedures and that testing for the Coronavirus is not being done.”

Gibson’s letter further detailed three concerns and three requests.

“Concern 1: Prison employees and their families are at risk. They have been telling people in Natchez but are reluctant to go on record due to fear of losing their jobs.

“Concern 2: Citizens of Natchez are at risk. As the virus spreads, with these numbers of exposed individuals, our hospital could be at maximum capacity in a matter of weeks and unable to meet the needs of citizens in Natchez/Adams County.

“Concern 3: The health and wellbeing of these detainees is of grave concern. They are being released with no paperwork to assist them in gaining transportation elsewhere, and with no housing, food or money to sustain them in Natchez.”

The requests:

“Request 1: An immediate stop order on relocation of detainees to Adams County Correctional Facility from other parts of the United States. Stop this situation before the numbers escalate even further.

“Request 2: An immediate stop order on the early release of any detainees. This is both for their safety and that of the community. They need to be kept in a facility where at least they have shelter, food and access to medical care.

“Request 3: Require Core Civic to immediately make public their emergency plan including all safety and medical precautions and provide proof of compliance.”

Gibson said U.S. Rep. Michael Guest, R-3rd District, was taking the issue seriously and that he is still awaiting a response from Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, R-Holly Springs.

In response, CoreCivic Director of Public Affairs Amanda S. Gilchrist issued the following statement: “CoreCivic is working hard to protect our employees, those entrusted to our care, and our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The release of detainees in our care (or new admissions to a facility) is a decision made by our government partners. Regarding Adams County, those decisions would be made by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and we encourage you to reach out to them with those questions.

“The claim that the Adams County facility is not properly screening employees and/or is not following COVID-19 protocols is false. Regarding CoreCivic’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we encourage concerned citizens and community activists to visit our Information and Resources on Coronavirus Response tab on our website, CoreCivic.com.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement Southern Region Communications Director Bryan Cox said ICE changed its detention policy recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We limited detention post-arrest nationwide two weeks ago to criminal offenders and mandatory detention cases,” Cox said. “All persons entering the facility are being screened, and there are currently no positive cases at the facility.”

Cox also provided the following link in regard to ICE’s COVID-19 protocol: https://www.ice.gov/Coronavirus.