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Are Arizona prisons prepared for the impact of the coronavirus if and when it gets to inmates?

Lewis Prison
Posted at 8:33 PM, Mar 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-28 20:55:40-04

PHOENIX — Compared to other states, the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry (ADCCR) has released considerably less information about its inmates and staff related to COVID-19.

The lack of information is frustrating inmates, their families, and employees.

“They have no reason to trust (ADCRR),” said one management-level employee, who asked to speak anonymously due to fear of retaliation. “(Staff and inmates) are going to start getting sick. And instead of trying to do the practical thing or the right thing, they’re just going to not tell people. They’re going to start freaking out, and it’s going to lead to chaos in the prison.”

The risk of spread inside the closed and close quarters of prison facilities is high. There are 42,000 inmates and another 9,000 employees.

Many are worried.

ABC15 has been contacted by more than 100 people connected to the prisons system within the past two weeks. At least a dozen more messages arrive every day with similar questions and concerns.

ADCRR currently has no known confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus among more than 42,000 state inmates. 15 inmates experiencing flu-like symptoms have been tested for COVID-19. Six of those tests have come back negative for the virus. The remaining 9 test results are currently pending. The inmates have been separated from the general population and are being closely monitored and cared for.

The department is tracking more information than has been released, according to high-level emails obtained by ABC15.

In a March 24 email chain, regional directors told wardens and deputy wardens to continue to track specific information related to inmates, staff, and supplies.

“Continue to track food inventory, chemical supplies, inmates with flu-like symptoms, employees denied entry, and update google sheets as necessary,” according to the emails.

Staff have raised many concerns about a lack of sufficient cleaning supplies and protective health equipment. ABC15 has also heard from multiple sources that there are sick, untested inmates in multiple prisons with some of them in quarantine.

Additional quarantine areas are being set up.

Sources said dozens of staff have been turned away from work in the past week after failing a health screening at the entrance, including nearly 30 workers at one prison alone.

None of that information has been made publicly available.

By comparison, states like California and Ohio have set up webpages with data, graphs, and information that is updated daily.

Prison officials maintain that they are prepared to prevent and manage any potential COVID-19 spread within their facilities.

In a previous statement, Director David Shinn has praised his department’s “robust” plan and that the health and safety of the inmates and staff are their highest priority.

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at