May 22, 2020

Corrections Corner / Deacon Marc Kellams

Pray for those incarcerated during pandemic

Deacon Marc Kellams“I can tell you right now, with nearly 100 percent certainty, that I am going to get this virus,” wrote Dennis, an inmate in the Plainfield Correctional Facility, to his wife. (Reported on “Morning Edition” on National Public Radio on May 1.) The inmate suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He has good reason for concern.

We have all made sacrifices during this crisis; some, many more than others. We have experienced a taste of what it is like to not be able to do as we please, while having been on a form of governmental home detention.

But our sacrifices have not been the same as those who are locked up in Indiana’s 21 correctional facilities and its 53 county jails. They have no control over what happens to them.

Non-violent offenders in some county jails have been released early or on bail, though not nearly in the numbers floating around social media. Some of those are placed on home detention or other types of electronic supervision. The same is not true for the state correctional system.

Gov. Eric Holcomb says he doesn’t support the idea of releasing low-level offenders from the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) to protect them from the virus. He was quoted on April 13, saying, “We’ve got our offenders in a safe place, we believe, maybe even safer than just letting them out, to avoid contracting this COVID-19.”

The inmates remain in facilities where their safety is someone else’s concern. Some are isolated, although spending 24/7 alone is a precaution that most would rather not take. It’s hard enough to do time. It’s harder still to do it all alone.

IDOC is taking action to protect the inmates with limited resources. It houses 27,000 inmates. Many dormitories hold up to 80 men. Our inmate Dennis, who was in fear of dying, reported that in his dormitory men were experiencing fevers, but were not immediately isolated. The IDOC website notes, “We are testing those with symptoms and exposure risk, based on clinical decision-making and in a targeted manner in accordance with CDC guidelines.”

As of May 9, 975 staff members had been tested for COVID-19; 258 tested positive, and two had died. Of the 1,112 offenders tested, 572 tested positive and 13 had died. There were 227 inmates being held in quarantine, with 664 in isolation.

The IDOC website explains, “Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed, or potentially exposed, to a contagious disease to see if they become sick. Isolation separates sick people who may have a contagious disease from those who are not sick.”

It is not my goal to take issue with the efforts of the IDOC. I am, however, pleading that its leadership and all 92 county sheriffs do whatever they can to keep the men and women in their charge safe. I also ask for your prayers that those who are incarcerated be protected from the ravages of this disease.

(Deacon Marc Kellams is the Coordinator of Corrections Ministry for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and a former criminal court judge. He can be reached at or call 317-592-4012.) †

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