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COVID-19 numbers quickly rising in Arizona prisons

Posted at 5:06 PM, May 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 23:56:55-04

YUMA, AZ — Confirmed coronavirus cases inside Arizona’s prison system have nearly doubled within the past week, including a new outbreak in the Yuma facility.

The sudden spread is alarming inmates, families, and officers.

“I don’t have life [in prison]. I get out in four years, lord willing,” said one Yuma inmate, who tested positive and spoke to ABC15. “There’s a lot of people that don’t have life. And the way DOC is going about it, our life is in jeopardy.”

Across the state, the numbers jumped from roughly 70 confirmed inmate cases to 145. There are also 67 staff who have self-reported positive tests.

The Yuma prison complex, which had zero reported cases early last week, now has 39 confirmed positives among inmates.

That number could quickly grow. The department just posted an additional 126 tests are pending.

Dozens of prisoners exposed to an outside kitchen contractor, who tested positive, have been moved into a warehouse type of building in the complex. The kitchen contractor works for Trinity Services, a food service vendor for the prison.

The lack of testing until Tuesday has concerned inmates.

“It’s easily a third to half of my yard is affected,” the inmate said. “But they won’t get tested because they’re saying it’s a budget thing with medical.”

Officers and union officials have also backed up the inmates claims.

Some staff members told ABC15 that they have still not been provided adequate protective equipment and that the administration hasn’t taken the threat of COVID-19 seriously.

One example: On Twitter, the department posted a photo showing Joe Profiri, ADC’s deputy director, posing with newly-minted officers at the academy graduation.

Profiri is standing closely next to a group of masked officers with his hand covering his mouth to simulate a mask.

“It shows you this is the way these guys lead,” Garcia said. “Do what I say. Don’t do what I do.”

Several employees have also raised concerns about the department mandating officers from Yuma fill in shifts at other prisons where there are outbreaks.

“Prior to that Trinity person coming up positive, we already had a ton of staff that had traveled from Yuma to Florence,” said Carlos Garcia, executive director of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association. “That’s one of the epicenters of this virus.”

State prisons in the Florence area have had some of the earliest and highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Garcia and other officers believe it’s possible those movements could have transferred the virus into Yuma before the food service worker.

Tensions inside Yuma remain high.

In recent days, a unit of inmates refused to lockdown. Some officers raised concerns about a potential riot.

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at dave@ABC15.com.