Texas Department of Criminal Justice transferred at least 121 COVID-19 positive inmates to Brazoria County units without notifying local officials, Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta said.
The system transferred these inmates to be closer to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Hospital in Galveston, TDCJ Communications Director Jeremy Desel said. He did not know whether local officials were notified of the transfer.
The system moved 98 inmates from the Beto unit near Palestine, Sebesta said. Of them, 56 went to the Scott unit in Angleton and 42 went to the Stringfellow unit in Rosharon, he said. Another 23 inmates went from Telford, near Texarkana, to Stringfellow, Sebesta said. This began Saturday, he said.
Sebesta was informed of the transfers by Keri Blakinger, a reporter for The Marshall Project. Blakinger got the initial tip from a source who provided documents, she said.
Sebesta said he, along with state representatives and senators, healthcare workers and first responders were not notified of the transfers.
“They have not had the courtesy to call yet and explain,” Sebesta said. “The lack of transparency is appalling from TDCJ.”
That is not directed at local wardens or guards, but at TDCJ administration, he said.
Under normal circumstances, there are hundreds or thousands of inmates transferred between the 104 prison units in the system and local officials are not notified, Desel said.
The system has halted intake of new inmates, as well as non-medical transfers in the wake of the pandemic, he said.
The prison system’s hospital in Galveston is “essentially a secure floor” of UTMB Health John Sealy Hospital and the only accredited prison hospital in the country, Desel said.
Hospital Galveston is considered the only TDCJ unit in Galveston County besides Young, which is a female medical unit in Dickinson, according to prison system data. Stringfellow and Scott are both male units.
The Stringfellow unit has another 13 COVID-19 positive tests and one pending while Scott has 10 positives, not including the transfers, according to TDCJ.
Numbers on TDCJ’s COVID Medical Action Center on its website are based on housing location at the time of testing and “do not necessarily reflect the offenders’ current location.”
Telford has had a total of 54 inmates test positive and Beto has had 118, according to the website.
This is a developing story. Check back for more information in Saturday's print edition of The Facts.