Missouri Department of Corrections implements technology to cut COVID-19 infection rate within prisons

Coronavirus in Prisons

Implementation of three technological innovations in the Missouri Department of Corrections aims to cut COVID-19 infection rates in Missouri state prisons and other facilities. These strategies:

  • Kill the virus in the air
  • Kill the virus on surfaces
  • Detect the virus in wastewater

The department now has ionization generators — air purifying devices that destroy 99.4% of COVID-19 within 30 minutes when installed in air handling systems. Using needlepoint ionization, the devices also kill other viruses, bacteria, mold, allergens, and pollutants, reducing health risks for people living and working in prisons. More than 1,468 units will soon be in use at all prisons, community supervision centers, the Transition Center of St. Louis, and other state-owned facilities. Installation is underway.

The department is procuring electrostatic disinfectant sprayers with vital oxide disinfectant. This cleaning system instantly covers surfaces with a fine disinfecting mist, killing COVID-19 and other pathogens on contact. Corrections offices and the common areas inside prisons and other facilities will be treated with this system regularly, supplementing the aggressive cleaning regimen already in place. Probation and Parole districts have 20 sprayers, and 20 more are on their way to adult institutions.

The department began monitoring wastewater for COVID-19 in July, in partnership with the Department of Natural Resources and the University of Missouri. This process detects the virus in human waste and signals where asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic infections might be starting, informing the use of COVID-19 testing strategies such as sample testing and boxed-in testing. MODOC has installed composite samplers at all sites and now conducts its own wastewater testing and uses the data collected to help identify and isolate infected people, slowing the virus’s spread.

While the number of active COVID-19 cases in Missouri state prisons is rapidly declining, the virus continues to pose a risk to Missourians living and working in correctional facilities, as well as in the community.

Missouri was among the first states to take vital steps toward stopping the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, including suspension of visiting, regular transfers, and programs that bring in volunteers and reentry partners. Missouri has the most aggressive COVID-19 testing strategy of all departments of corrections in the United States and has conducted more than 72,000 tests to date. A viral containment strategy implemented long before the first case hit Missouri prisons limits the number of people with whom each staff member and offender has contact, helping to contain the virus. Missouri Vocational Enterprises began manufacturing face covers, hand sanitizer, and protective gowns in early spring and continues to produce these products for use by corrections and other state agencies and nonprofit groups.

Other viral-containment steps include restricted offender movement; limited group sizes; use of video and tablets for educational and religious programming; screening of all staff and others entering any facility, with temperature checks; strict sanitation schedules and guidelines; ample cleaning supplies at every prison; a designated point person at each facility to ensure adherence to the sanitizing schedule and availability of soap and sanitizer; around-the-clock on-site medical care at every prison; training in COVID-19 preparation and response for all staff; COVID-19-enhanced pandemic protocols implemented at every prison; isolation cells, wings and units at every prison; quarantine strategies for offenders and staff; and shelter-in-place and testing processes for enhanced care units.