Green River Correctional Complex

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Gov. Andy Beshear said the COVID-19 outbreak at a western Kentucky prison has worsened, with up to 120 more positive cases and an additional death in the facility.

“It’s a challenge, and it’s a concern,” Beshear said at his briefing on Monday about what is happening at the Green River Correctional Complex, saying he would provide more information Tuesday. “We are going to be working very actively to address this.”

Asked if citizens who have a loved one in the prison should be scared, Beshear was blunt in his answer.

“Should they worry? Yes,” Beshear said. With the virus "there at the level it is, you ought to be worried.”

In a previous update about Green River in late April, Beshear said that of the more than 900 prisoners, 43 had tested positive for the coronavirus-caused illness, and two had died. In addition, 28 workers also had been sickened at the time.

Last week, testing on everyone who is working or lodged in Green River was completed - a total of about 875 people – but it is not yet known exactly how many people have tested positive, said J. Michael Brown, Beshear’s executive cabinet secretary.

Still, the numbers have climbed at least above 160 positive cases in the prison, and state officials are working to isolate infected inmates with a new housing plan.

Brown said the prison will use one building for inmates who have tested positive for the virus and another for those who have tested negative but have come into contact with those who have contracted COVID-19.

A third building will house inmates who have underlying conditions that make them susceptible to the virus. The rest of the prison population will be separated in a fourth building.

“We think this will be a model for other places,” Brown said.

Brown also said face masks are being passed out to staff and inmates and temperature checks will be taken on anyone who comes in the prison.

At least nine Green River inmates who were sentenced in Louisville have filed motions with Jefferson County Circuit Court judges in recent weeks asking for their prison sentences to be set aside or modified to home incarceration instead.

In addition, attorneys for some inmates have filed lawsuits against Kevin Mazza, the Green River warden, asking judges to order their release as a result of “cruel and unusual punishment.”

At least one of the inmates who has filed a lawsuit against Green River claims to have tested positive for the virus. 

Kalvin Irvin, who is serving a sentence for firearm possession charges with an expected release date in 2022, tested positive April 18 and was "returned to his cell" with a cellmate, where social distancing was impossible, according to the lawsuit. 

Several days later, he was taken to "the hole," which the attorneys say is used by prison officials for isolation. 

"Mr. Irvin and his wife are both concerned for his life at this time," according to the lawsuit filed on Tuesday in Jefferson Circuit Court. 

In the motions and lawsuits, the inmates say Green River is overrun with sick workers and inmates, and social distancing has been impossible because they are constantly put into group situations.

Some allege there is no soap and hand sanitizer and only the “severely ill” are being tested for COVID-19. Even those released from 14-day quarantine after having symptoms are not being tested before going back into the general population, according to the motions.

There are hearings scheduled in these cases for later this week and next.

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Jason Riley is a criminal justice reporter for WDRB.com. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after 14 years with The Courier-Journal. He graduated from Western Kentucky University. Jason can be reached at 502-585-0823 and jriley@wdrb.com.