Eight inmates fled the minimum-security unit of the women's prison in Pierre, S.D. on Monday night after a fellow detainee tested positive for the coronavirus.
The women left the Community Work Center at 8:43 p.m. through an exterior door, according to a news release from the Department of Corrections.
"Women’s Prison staff began escape procedures and law enforcement was notified," the news release says. "The South Dakota Highway Patrol aircraft was used to assist ground operations in its search for the inmates."
The women fled several hours after Kim Malsam-Rysdon, secretary of the Department of Health, confirmed that a female inmate tested positive for COVID-19.
“Staff have appropriately isolated that individual and any other potential contacts,” Malsam-Rysdon said, adding that they are beginning an investigation on how the case spread there.
Sources have told the Journal that the woman was housed in the minimum-security unit that the women fled from, but the DOC has not yet responded to an email asking to confirm this. The Journal is also waiting to learn about the the woman's condition, where and how she is being treated, where she worked, how many inmates and workers she came into contact with are being quarantined, and other questions.
The women, who are between 23 and 30 years old, are serving sentences ranging from seven months to nearly 13 years (with five suspended).
Seven of the women are serving time for drug possession convictions while one is imprisoned for her third conviction of driving while intoxicated. Some of the women were also convicted of simple assault, eluding, second-degree robbery and failure to appear.
The Division of Criminal Investigation is investigating the incident. If the women are caught, they can be arrested for second-degree escape for leaving a non-secure correctional facility without permission. The Class 5 felony is punishable by up to five years in prison.
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