South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton

South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton 

In the beginning of April, Patrice Clemons got a call from an administrator at Southern State Prison that her brother, Alfredo, would be allowed to come home as part of the releases allowed by state officials to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

But that hasn’t happened yet, she said Thursday, and now, he’s tested positive for the new coronavirus.

“I don’t believe they’re going to let him come home because he’s tested positive,” said Clemons, of Camden. “It’s very frustrating because I know I’m not the only family member going through this. It’s a sad situation right now.”

Alfredo Clemons, 29, is serving a 42-month sentence on a weapons charge at the Maurice River Township facility, according to the state Department of Corrections website.

He is eligible for parole at the end of February.

“He lost all hope,” Clemons said. “When he does call me, those couple of seconds I spend my time reassuring him that better days are coming for him.”

A spokeswoman from the DOC did not respond to a request for comment on Alfredo Clemons’ release, but the department generally does not comment on individual cases.

Alfredo is one of hundreds of state prison inmates who have tested positive for the new coronavirus, and, in South Jersey, the number of cases in inmates continues to grow.

In less than two weeks, the number of cases of the new coronavirus in inmates at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton has nearly quintupled, according to the most recent state data.

At Bayside State Prison in Maurice River Township, that number has increased tenfold.

COVID-19 Cases in South Jersey Prison Inmates

Source: New Jersey Department of Corrections

While officials say increased testing will lead to higher numbers, family members are still frustrated, claiming there isn’t enough testing being done for their loved ones behind bars and there’s a lack of communication from officials.

Earlier this month, state officials announced plans to test every inmate and staff member at all DOC facilities.

COVID-19 Cases in South Jersey Prison Staff

Source: New Jersey Department of Corrections

Of the roughly 25,000 tests needed for that population, more than 15,000 have been administered so far through a facility-by-facility testing rotation, DOC spokesman Matthew Schuman said in an email Wednesday.

“Just like in the community, you will note a rise in cases with the availability of testing,” Schuman said. “Testing better provides data-driven insights on the operational management of the infirm.”

Currently, four employees and 71 inmates at Bayside have tested positive. At South Woods, 240 inmates and 17 employees have tested positive; four inmates have died.

Southern State has reported 79 employees and 106 inmates testing positive, a stark increase compared to 13 days ago, when their totals were 62 and 70, respectively.

However, neither Southern State nor Bayside has reported an inmate death attributed to COVID-19.

Karen Moore’s son has been at Southern State for about two months. She said she’s worried for him after his 60-year-old bunkmate had a high fever, was coughing and couldn’t catch his breath.

The 27-year-old’s name is being withheld by The Press of Atlantic City because he fears reprisal from officials. He’s serving less than seven years on carjacking and related charges and is eligible for parole in November 2022, according to the DOC.

The man’s symptoms were “brushed off” Moore said, but when he finally sought medical attention, he never returned to his cell.

“I understand why they may brush them off slightly, especially if you have quite a few prisoners who are always crying wolf,” Moore said. “But at the same time, during this pandemic, I think they need to be more alert to it.”

Diana Fummey’s son, 25-year-old Desmond, is scheduled to be paroled from Southern State in December after serving almost three years on an assault charge, according to the DOC.

He was born with asthma, Fummey said, and she’s afraid he’s going to die in prison.

“I’m scared I’m going to lose my son,” she said. “He tells me he’s alright, he’s not going to worry me, but as a mother I am worried.”

As officials move to open beaches and marinas, she said they need to address issues at the prison facilities.

“I want to advocate for the prison,” she said. “Not just because my son is in there, but for the (corrections officers), too. This is not being handled correctly for our COs and our inmates.”

Clemons said Thursday she’s going to continue to push for information from officials as cases increase inside Southern State.

“I don’t know where the numbers stand at, but I know it’s bad,” Clemons said. “I’m just going to keep being his advocate for him and see which way this ball rolls.”

Contact: 609-272-7241

Twitter @ACPressMollyB

Staff Writer

My beat is public safety, following police and crime. I started in January 2018 here at the Press covering Egg Harbor and Galloway townships. Before that, I worked at the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa., covering crime and writing obituaries.

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