Northpoint now has four inmate deaths, one staff death linked to COVID

Note: The data in this story has been updated to reflect new data released since the story was in the print edition of the Advocate-Messenger. 

As of Jan. 18, Northpoint Training Center had four inmate deaths and one staff death linked to COVID-19, according to the Kentucky Department of Corrections website.

Northpoint also, up until Jan. 18, had the highest number of total COVID-19 cases to date among the 14 correctional facilities listed on the website at 896. It now has had 922 cases to date as of Jan. 18 and is behind Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex, which now has the highest total cases, and Luther Luckett Correctional Complex.

The staff member who died was David Ragle, who was approaching his 19th year at Northpoint and planning to retire around August 2021, said Lisa Lamb, deputy commissioner for the DOC.

“He was a dedicated employee who loved his job,” Lamb said in an email. “He always arrived early and stayed late when needed and he is deeply missed by Northpoint staff. His family remains in our thoughts and prayers. The Supporting Heroes Organization assisted the family with his funeral service.”

Information on the inmates who died, provided by Lamb, is below:

• Jan 9: White male, 51; serving a life sentence for sodomy, murder, and rape charges out of Fayette County.

• Jan. 5: White male, 63; 20-year sentence for sodomy charges out of Metcalfe County.

• Jan. 2: White male, 69; serving a 25-year sentence for sexual abuse and sodomy out of Russell County.

• Dec. 30: Black male, 66; serving a 23-year sentence for drug-related charges out of Daviess County.

Lamb said Northpoint is one of the three largest prisons in the state, and the DOC believes the quick spread there is largely due to the design of the prison itself. She said it is open bay instead of having individual or two-person cells. When the prison’s first inmate cases were reported, they were from different housing units and buildings, which Lamb said contributed to the speed of the spread.

“The bottom line is this is an extremely difficult time due to the rampant nature of the virus,” she said. “The fact that all but two of Kentucky’s counties are in the red zone demonstrates this.”

Lamb said the congregate settings for inmates and close proximity to one another is one factor that makes them a vulnerable demographic to infection.

“We realize this has been a difficult time for the offenders in our custody and for their loved ones,” she said. “In addition, some offenders have led a lifestyle that is not conducive to remaining healthy so this also adds to their increased risk.”

Active cases at Northpoint have dropped significantly in the past month. The Advocate-Messenger previously reported as of Dec. 20 there were 409 active positive cases among inmates according to the DOC website, and as of Jan. 15 the DOC website reported 25 active inmate cases, which rose to 51 as of Jan. 18. As for staff cases, as of Jan. 15 and Jan. 18 there have been 93 total cases and there were 15 active cases as of Jan. 15, which rose to 16 as of Jan. 18.

“The active cases have dropped significantly because inmates are recovering from the virus every day,” Lamb said. “It is the same with our staff.”

Though Northpoint has the second-highest number of deaths among inmates among the 14 correctional facilities listed on the DOC site, Kentucky State Reformatory’s count was significantly higher as of Jan. 15 and Jan. 18 at 28 total inmate deaths to date, though there are only three active inmate cases there and there have been 534 total inmate cases there, as of both Jan. 15 and Jan. 18. Lamb explained why the death count may be higher at the KSR.

“The Kentucky State Reformatory’s (KSR) primary mission is to be a specialized institution to provide extensive mental health and medical services to inmates within the system,” she said. “The institution also maintains a nursing care facility. Because of this, KSR has many of the most medically vulnerable inmates, which are considered a high risk group.”

Like with other correctional facilities across Kentucky, Lamb said the DOC is monitoring COVID-19 at Northpoint and working closely with the Department for Public Health “to ensure that proper protocols are being followed to protect the justice-involved population, as well as correctional personnel.”

Northpoint has taken steps including the following, Lamb said — the prisons have been separated into distinct housing areas: positive inmates, negative inmates with direct exposure and negative inmates with no exposure, medical staff monitor inmates who are medically vulnerable, and if an inmate becomes symptomatic for any illness and prison medical staff cannot adequately care for the inmate, the inmate is transferred to the hospital.

To protect themselves and to keep cases from spreading among inmates, Lamb said that in dormitories or wings where positive inmates are housed, staff wear full personal protective equipment including foot covers, protective gowns, nitrile gloves, KN95 or N95 masks and face shields. There are also hand sanitizer stations available, there is sanitizing liquid for officers’ boots at entrances to dormitories and employees pass through sanitizing portals when entering the facility.

“This portal provides the first line of defense in reducing microbes on clothing and personal belongings as people enter the space,” Lamb said.

The facility has also taken steps to educate staff and inmates about symptoms of COVID-19, social distancing and personal hygiene to control the spread.

“DOC is committed to protecting our staff and the offenders in our care,” Lamb said. “All DOC facilities have enhanced sanitization using a germicide and bleach solution multiple times a day. Visitation remains suspended and anyone entering a prison is medically screened. Cloth masks for inmates and staff were provided in early April and have been supplemented to ensure staff and inmates have a fresh one available at all times. Masks are mandatory for all staff and inmates.”

Lamb said according to warden Brad Adams, the prison has also managed a low officer vacancy rate, which has allowed the facility to continue to provide uninterrupted services, and he is proud staff and offenders are stepping up to the challenges COVID-19 presents.