State health officials are investigating a case of tuberculosis at Tutwiler Prison for Women


News staff writer

State health officials are investigating a case of tuberculosis at Tutwiler Prison for Women.

So far, tests have confirmed only one active case, said Mary Keenon, director of the division of Tuberculosis Control at the Alabama Department of Public Health.

After the case was confirmed in late December, health officials started testing other inmates in the dormitory where the sick woman lived. Some of those tests came back positive. But some of those inmates have tested
positive in the past and not actually had the disease, said Brian Corbett, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Corrections.

"Having a positive skin test does not mean they have the disease," Keenon said.

Health officials have not determined where the woman contracted the disease. A full investigation usually takes a couple of months, Keenon said.

Because of confidentiality concerns, Keenon could not release any more details about the case, such as which dorm the woman lived in or how long she had been there.

The inmate is being treated and isolated in the prison's medical facility, Corbett said.

Of particular concern to health officials is the restrictive air flow and confined conditions at the prison, conditions which can increase the chances for TB to spread.

Once a leading killer of Alabamians, TB is an infectious bacterial disease that often infects the lungs. Last year, the state had 233 new cases.

Already a federal judge has declared Tutwiler unconstitutionally unsafe for the 1,000 prisoners there. The prison was built to hold about 300 people.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson told state officials last week that he may impose contempt of court fines. The prison has not substantially improved since his Dec. 2 order, in which he gave the state until Dec. 30 to
present a plan to remedy unsafe conditions.

Attorneys with the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights have also listed pages of medical shortcomings in a lawsuit against the Wetumpka lockup and Naphcare, the private company that holds the
state prison medical contract.