A coalition of state and nationwide criminal justice reform organizations have called for the Arizona Department of Health Services to perform health inspections in all state prisons, as the risk for the spread of COVID-19 grows each day.
The group consists of the Arizona Office of American Friends Service Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union, Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, the Cree Project, the William E. Morris Institute for Justice, FAMM, the Prison Law Office, FWD.us and more.
In a letter
to DHS Director Dr. Cara Christ, they urged her and other health officials to make sure that Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines are being followed consistently inside prisons. They want the results of the inspections to be distributed to the public within 24 hours.
The letter calls for clear directives to be given to the Department of Corrections if any deficiencies are found during inspections, along with public reports of the department's response.
They included examples of why they believe the department is putting people at great risk of becoming seriously ill, where numerous accounts show "serious inconsistencies between what ADCRR has publicly announced it is doing to adhere to CDC guidelines and the reality of what people who live and work in these facilities are seeing."
AFSC-AZ's survey of 65 families connected to incarcerated people in Arizona's prisons showed:
- Sixty-four percent (64%) of respondents said they had received little to no information about COVID-19 in the prison where their loved one is living. Some indicated they had spoken to their loved one, but no information was disseminated to the people inside.
- Only 3 respondents (4%) said their loved one received information from a prison warden or “meeting” inside.
The letter stated most families rely on television or print news to get updates about how the Department of Corrections is dealing with COVID-19.
The department has said they posted bulletins in each prison advising incarcerated people and staff to wash hands, sanitize surfaces and cover coughs and sneezes. Employees were encouraged to stay home if they are sick.
But AFSC-AZ's survey of 110 family members connected to incarcerated people showed that only 30 of them saw this information posted in their units, while 55 said no such information was available and 25 said they didn't know.
The CDC recommends cleaning all surfaces and objects that are frequently touched several times a day. The letter points out that the Department of Corrections has only committed to weekly cleanings of these types of surfaces.
The department also said they would provide "free hand soap, paper towels and hygiene items" to prisoners and staff, but the letter cites a motion filed March 16 by the Prison Law Office in the Parsons v. Shinn
medical class action lawsuit saying “incarcerated people reported that they were not provided any disinfectant cleaning supplies to clean their cells or personal bed space, but rather were told to use their personal supplies of shampoo or soap to clean hard surfaces.”
The letter continues:
Per numerous first-hand accounts, both posted on social media sites and through direct contact with AFSC-Arizona staff, the free soap being provided to incarcerated people is clearly insufficient to meet the requirements set forward by the CDC. The bars are reportedly the same size as those frequently provided in hotel rooms. These are distributed only every two weeks. It is unlikely that a bar this small would last an individual two weeks if they are following the guidelines regarding frequent hand washing that ADCRR itself has acknowledged is the primary means of preventing infection.
Photographs of the soap posted on social media show that the individual bars are only about two inches in length – the size of two quarters.
"If COVID-19 begins to spread inside our state prisons, it will endanger entire communities where those prisons reside,” said Caroline Isaacs, program director for AFSC-AZ, in a press release. “Tens of thousands of people across this state will be impacted: Correctional officers, their families, the businesses in their communities, as well as people who are incarcerated and their loved ones."
In 2019, 11 percent of the state's prison population was over age 55.
As of today, three correctional staff have reportedly tested positive for COVID- 19, according to the letter and the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association. Two of them worked in the Tucson prison complex (where there are medical and Special Needs Units that specifically house people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, or who are elderly) and the the third worked in Winslow.
Also today, the Department of Corrections announced they will have incarcerated people making non-medical masks for all prison employees to wear during work. Their announcement did not include whether incarcerated people would get widespread access to masks themselves.
This move comes after reports
of ADC leadership actively discouraging employees from wearing masks during work, in order to "prevent panic."
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Arizona had reached 2,575 as of Tuesday, April 7, according to the morning report from the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Pima County had 415 of the state’s confirmed cases.
The coronavirus had killed 73 people statewide, including 13 in Pima County, according to the Pima County Health Department.
In Maricopa County, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases had risen to 1,495.
If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop a fever, cough or difficulty breathing, speak with a healthcare provider for medical advice. According to the CDC, people who are mildly ill with COVID-19 are able to recover at home. Stay at home and avoid public transportation, but stay in touch with your doctor. If you do leave your home, wear a facemask and clean your hands often. If you develop more severe symptoms (persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, bluish lips) get medical attention immediately. Your local health authorities will give instructions on checking your symptoms and reporting information.
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