COVID-19 outbreaks continue within several Arizona state prisons. There are thousands of positive cases, and dozens of deaths, among inmates and staff - even spilling into the community. There is a lot more happening behind the scenes, that is now being exposed.
“The public is at risk right now from COVID and from the lack of security that we have and from the lack of leadership from a director. Again, I bring this up, we don't know where he's at,” says Carlos Garcia, executive director of Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association.
Carlos Garcia, the executive director of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association, says there are many failures within the system.
"They are giving them the wrong PPE. They are not giving them PPE anyway but, what they give them is trash,” says Garcia.
Pictures we received show the so-called protective gear given to staff. Garcia says they are made out of bedsheets. The department issued a statement:
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Department has taken broad actions to mitigate the risk and impact of COVID-19 in all of its facilities.”
The union executive director says that is not true, stressing that he, along with several advocacy groups, have tried reaching out to Director David Shinn and Governor Doug Ducey to get concerns addressed.
“We need to hold these directors responsible and accountable for the injustices and the inhumane treatments that our loved ones are getting inside,” says Jovana Renteria, Puente Human Rights Movement.
The Puente Human Rights Movement recently launched a new campaign asking the Biden Administration to investigate the Arizona DOC.
“To make sure that everybody that's inside these cages gets proper medical attention,” says Renteria.
Over the past year, more than 11,500 inmates have tested positive and more than 2,500 staff.
Deaths are up to 34. A warden from Yuma Prison even lost his life to COVID in December. But, the data shows that cases are also spilling into the community. Take for instance Buckeye, where Lewis Prison is located, more than 8,500 cases. Florence has had nearly 6,000 cases and is also where two violent inmates escaped recently.
“It’s a threat that these inmates got out. It’s a threat that it was never addressed. It's a threat that they are covering it up and it's a threat that the director has not yet once put his face out there to say, ‘sorry that this happened, it will never happen again,’” says Garcia.
In fact, Director Shinn has been out of the public eye for several weeks. When the department was directly asked about his whereabouts:
"We appreciate your concern, however, David Shinn remains the ADCRR Director."
So why is nothing being done? We’re told fear of retaliation.
Rep. Walt Blackman has introduced HB 2167 to implement oversight of the department of corrections, an agency that receives more than a billion in taxpayer money.
“It’s time that we take a look, a deep dive, peel the onion back, on the prison system. Identify bad actors if there are, identify needs and resources that Director Shinn needs to move his agenda forward to improving conditions. Making sure they have the classes and programming they need and, just making sure we are keeping a good eye on DOC,” says State Rep. Walt Blackman (R) Arizona.
The DOC says the accusations are a mischaracterization of the truth.
FULL DOC STATEMENT:
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Department has taken broad actions to mitigate the risk and impact of COVID-19 in all of its facilities. Keeping our staff, inmates and communities safe continues to be our top priority. Each day, all employees entering any Arizona prison complex continue to undergo required temperature and symptom checks at each facility. All prison complex staff have been required to wear cloth face coverings since June 15, 2020. On July 2, all inmates were provided fabric face coverings for their use. Additional face coverings were provided again in November.
ADCRR continues to remain vigilant on all fronts with robust COVID-19 management strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19 at its statewide facilities. The Department continues to follow CDC and ADHS guidelines for correctional facilities and has done so throughout the pandemic. PPE and cleaning supplies are in stock, used daily, distributed to the units as needed and restocked accordingly. Inmates have access to two additional 15-minute phone calls per week, free of charge, since March 13. The additional calls are offered above and beyond ADCRR's regular phone and written letters policy. Since May 8, video visitation for inmates was also implemented at each complex.
In another proactive step against COVID-19, on Tuesday, January 19, ADCRR began offering a second round of widespread PCR testing to its nearly 38,000 inmates. The testing, in collaboration with the Arizona Department of Health Services, will take place at all 10 complexes as well as ADCRR’s private prison facilities. Last August, ADCRR became one of only a handful of state correctional agencies in the nation to mass test their entire inmate population and continues to remain in this category with a second round of mass testing.
COVID-19 data continues to be updated on ADCRR’s dashboard at corrections.az.gov/adcrr-covid-19-dashboard. Please note the data on the dashboard is cumulative back to February of 2020. For the latest regarding ADCRR’s COVID-19 management strategy, please also visit corrections.az.gov/covid-19-management-updates.