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Housing consolidation increases COVID-19 risk, incarcerated women in N.H. say

A photo of the entrance to the women's prison in Concord.
New Hampshire Department of Corrections

Recent efforts to consolidate housing at the women's prison in Concord have increased the risk of spreading COVID-19, incarcerated women at the prison say.

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The New Hampshire Department of Corrections closed a unit in early January, putting about three dozen women in minimum security housing together where they share bathrooms and showers.

Some women there say they can't socially distance themselves, and DOC staff aren't consistently enforcing mask rules.

Jessica Curry, who is imprisoned in the unit, says the DOC should do a better job of reminding incarcerated people to mask up.

"And if [the incarcerated women] refuse to do it, actually do something about it because if people are going to keep getting away with not wearing a mask, they’re going to keep doing it,” she says.

The DOC says staff remind inmates at least once a day to wear masks.

Jessica Parker has multiple sclerosis and a lung condition that puts her at high risk. Parker says she needs to complete a drug treatment program, but the required group sessions seem risky given current practices.

"The truth is that I don't feel comfortable putting myself at risk, you know? My health has to come first,” Parker says.

The state's dashboard says as of Thursday there were currently 11 active cases of COVID at the women's prison. Parker says the DOC is undercounting cases there, an assertion the DOC disputes.

The DOC says having fewer incarcerated people prompted the housing consolidation, which ultimately helps ease a staffing shortage that has persisted throughout the pandemic.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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