COVID-19 cluster in Williamson County Jail, group questions lack of inmate vaccinations

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — An active COVID-19 outbreak in the Williamson County Jail has infected 10 inmates, showing the persistence of the coronavirus in closed settings despite widespread availability of vaccines.

Kathleen A. Pokluda, the Williamson County assistant chief deputy over jail administration, confirmed to KXAN that 10 inmates tested positive for COVID-19. She said the outbreak may have come from an inmate recently coming into the facility, and all safety protocols that were put in place during the pandemic remain.

“Current policies and procedures include a stringent cleaning regime, protocols for inmate/employee testing, and strategic quarantine measures to address symptomatic and/or COVID positive inmates and employees,” Pokluda said.

No staff members or corrections offices were known to catch the virus from this outbreak.

COVID-19 remains a concern for inmates’ family members and an organization called the Texas Jail Project.

“The facility itself is really the perfect breeding ground for this virus because of the close living corridors and the overcrowded conditions,” said Gabriela Barahona, a program associate for The Texas Jail Project.

The Texas Jail Project, a grassroots organization, has been advocating for the health and safety of inmates, specifically inside county jails, for years now.

“The majority of the people that are in there are pre-trial, so they have not been convicted of a crime,” Barahona said.

Since March of 2020, the Jail Project has conducted hundreds of interviews with inmates across Texas. The continued concerns they hear are about the lack of uniform safety standards and COVID case reporting.

“I really hope this is an alarm bell for the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department to take the public health crisis seriously, and protect the people they are charged with caring for,” Barahona said.

Pokluda said this is the first COVID-19 case inside the jail since February. The clusters aren’t unique to just Williamson County. The Texas Jail Project has recently been made aware of a cluster inside a jail in Victoria and Bowie County.

In March of this year, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice began vaccinating eligible prison inmates, but those efforts fizzled, according to The Texas Jail Project. Efforts to vaccinate county jail inmates weren’t as widespread.

“It’s very much up to the county and local sheriffs department to facilitate that,” Barahona said.

Pokluda said she is now in contact with the Williamson County and Cities Health District and will be coordinating with them to facilitate vaccine clinics.

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