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National Guard arrives at Westville prison in wake of COVID-19 outbreak
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National Guard arrives at Westville prison in wake of COVID-19 outbreak

Protest outside Westville Correctional Facility

Westville Correctional Facility inmates wave to protesters from a window Tuesday.

WESTVILLE — The Indiana National Guard arrived Wednesday at the local Westville Correctional Facility to begin supplementing for the staff that has been hard hit by an outbreak of COVID-19 at the prison.

"They are helping with perimeter, exterior work," said Dave Bursten, chief communications officer with the Indiana Department of Correction.

Guard medics also are helping inside the prison's infirmary but are not in the housing units at the medium-security prison, which houses 3,100 male inmates in LaPorte County, he said.

Bursten was uncertain how many guard members or which units were deployed to the prison, or how long the members will be working on site.

A National Guard representative was not immediately available Wednesday for comment on the deployment.

COVID-19 just the latest woe at Westville prison, protesters say

The Indiana National Guard already had been deployed to the Pendleton Correctional Facility, where members are carrying out the same duties as at Westville, Bursten said.

Guard members also are helping out with commissary packaging at the Plainfield Correctional Facility, Bursten said. Inmates are typically used for that work, but the warehouse is outside the prison walls and inmates are not being allowed to leave at this time.

The deployment at Westville has been in the works for some time and is not in reaction to the drive-by protest that occurred Tuesday outside the prison, he said.

That protest drew more than 70 vehicles, which drove around the prison honking horns and carrying signs drawing attention to practices that protesters said are putting inmates at risk during the COVID-19 outbreak and before.

Inmates and protesters said there are inadequate cleaning supplies within the prison and claimed that inmates are not being given proper precautions or care surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. They claimed the outbreak of the virus has heightened already poor conditions for inmates.

Bursten disputed those claims, saying all inmates have received protective masks and those displaying virus-related symptoms are being tested and separated from the main inmate population. He also said restrictions have been lifted to allow inmates round-the-clock communications with loved ones.

The IDOC reported that as of Wednesday, 146 of the inmates at Westville had tested positive for COVID-19, along with 38 correctional officers. One of those positive inmates has died.

The prison has far more known positive cases of COVID-19 than any other around the state.

A total of 334 prison inmates have tested positive statewide with five deaths, according to the IDOC. There have been 159 correctional officers testing positive statewide and two deaths.

Bursten has said the virus has been most fatal among correctional officers with two of the 6,000 dying, as compared to five deaths among the 27,000 inmates statewide.

Gallery: Protesters circle Westville Correctional Facility

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.

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