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Union leaders, advocates criticize DOC plan for preventing coronavirus in prisons

Posted: 5:41 PM, Mar 19, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-20 22:10:36-04
Prison jail bars

PHOENIX — Union leaders and inmate legal advocates are criticizing the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry plan for preventing and managing a coronavirus outbreak in the state prison system.

Lawyers for the state issued their plan to a federal judge late Wednesday after attorneys for two advocacy groups filed an emergency motion earlier this week.

The plan includes the following actions:

- A suspension of all visitation, legal and non-legal

- A waiver of co-pays for inmates who need medical attention for cold and flu-like symptoms

- Free hand soap to all inmates upon request

- Weekly deep cleaning of all facilities

- All employees entering prison complexes will undergo disease symptom checks

“As demonstrated, both ADCRR’s and Centurion’s advanced and continuing response to COVID-19 is robust, in alignment with CDC recommendations, and well within the corrections healthcare standard of care for response protocols to combat infectious diseases,” according to the state’s response to the emergency motion.

Centurion is the state prison system’s private healthcare provider.

“The only thing robust right now is the word robust. It’s a good word, it means strong, vigorous. But we don’t have that,” said Carlos Garcia, Executive Director of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association.

Garcia said his staff lacks enough cleaning supplies and basic medical protection equipment.

“What’s worrying us is this department’s willingness to downplay everything, lie, and push everything away from themselves,” Garcia said. “I mean for the love of God. They are giving us bleach in a bottle. One bottle with bleach in it, and they’re telling you guys that they have a robust plan to deep clean in the pods. (We have) barely any gloves, no masks, no suits. So, no not adequate.”

The concern inside state prisons continues to grow as coronavirus cases increase throughout the state.

Many families have contacted ABC15 in recent days reporting that there is no free soap available for inmates and that personal hygiene and cleaning supplies are scarce.

Multiple department sources also told ABC15 that a handful of women in the Perryville prison complex have been quarantined – some with COVID-19-like symptoms. Insiders also said there’s a group of sick inmates in other prisons, including Florence.

A department spokesperson has said, “We have not been informed at this point of any COVID-19 confirmed cases.”

The spokesperson has not directly answered questions in emails about whether any inmates have actually been tested.

“The fact nobody has tested positive really doesn’t mean much because nobody has been tested,” said Corene Kendrick, attorney for the Prison Law Office. “There are so few people tested in the state of Arizona, period.”

The Prison Law Office and the ACLU have been involved in a years-long class-action lawsuit with ADCRR over healthcare.

Members of the two organizations toured the Florence prison complex last week and were concerned about a lack of perceived preparations.

After seeing the state’s response to their emergency motion, they still believe more needs to be done or inmates will die unnecessarily.

“No, we are not satisfied with what they filed,” Kendrick said. “What the plan needs to focus on is immediately finding ways to reduce the population.”

On Thursday, the ACLU of Arizona sent a letter to Governor Doug Ducey, Arizona police chiefs, county sheriff’s and attorneys, and Attorney General Mark Brnovich demanding that they immediately release individuals in detention with high risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.

“People in jails and prisons are more vulnerable to infection. More than 40,000 people live in state prisons where the Arizona Department of Corrections has proven itself repeatedly to be incapable of providing basic medical care. Our local jails also have disturbing histories of failing to protect people from disease and illness,” said ACLU of Arizona Criminal Justice Staff Attorney Jared Keenan in a prepared statement.

Law enforcement and jail officials in other cities across the country have suspended the immediate arrest and jailing of people accused of minor crimes and probation violations.

Arizona officials have so far pushed back on any reduction in jail or prison populations.

The Prison Law Office and ACLU will file their own reply to the state’s plan by Friday.

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at dave@abc15.com.