Concerns continue over COVID-19 response in Arizona’s state prisons

As of Friday, April 10, four Arizona inmates had confirmed cases of COVID-19.
As of Friday, April 10, four Arizona inmates had confirmed cases of COVID-19.(Source: KOLD News 13)
Published: Apr. 10, 2020 at 10:16 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - While a handful of inmates have contracted COVID-19 at state facilities, many advocates and loved ones of inmates are sharing concerns and calling for more information.

As of Friday, April 10, the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry reported four positive cases among the more than 41,500 inmates at state facilities: two cases in Florence, one in Tucson and one in Marana.

According to ADCRR, 71 inmates have been tested. Information on testing among corrections officers or department employees has yet to be released.

“My son said it’s just a mess. He’s so worried," said one Arizona mother who asked to remain anonymous. Her son is currently serving a sentence in one of the units in Tucson. She said he was recently moved form a cell with another inmate to a ‘group’ dorm setting to make space for inmates who may need to self-isolate.

“People are coughing and you know, sneezing on each other. There’s no protection what so ever except for their soap and their shampoo," she said.

“The bar of soap folks get is the size of two quarters, a business card,” said Corene Kendrick, an attorney with the Prison Law Office.

Kendrick and other attorneys from the Prison Law Office, ACLU National Prison Project, ACLU of Arizona, and Arizona Center for Disability Law filed an emergency motion in federal district court in Phoenix in the long-running case of Parsons v. Shinn. The motion asked District Judge Roslyn O. Silver to order the Arizona Department of Corrections to consult with a correctional health care expert to develop a plan to prevent, manage, and treat any COVID-19 outbreaks in the state’s ten prisons. Judge Silver denied the emergency motion Monday, March 23.

On April 2, Judge Silver issued an order instructing ADC to provide the attorneys for incarcerated people the names of every person tested for COVID-19, as well as the results.

Kendrick said her office is hearing similar complaints across the state.

“There’s no cleaning supplies, people saying there’s rumors staff is being turned away but the next day they are turning up,” said Kendrick. “There’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of confusion.”

The department has posted press releases about plans to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the prisons with updates throughout the last few weeks.

The ADCRR posted a video of inmates making masks for employees after the CDC’s recommendation that everyone wear a cloth face covering in public. Requests for information on if inmates can wear masks as well has not been returned to KOLD News 13.

“What we are hearing everyday from families members and prisoners is they’be been told you can’t make a mask out of your own clothing, even if they bought it you will be written up for destruction of state property," said Kendrick.

In an email sent to KOLD News 13, an inmate at a unit in Tucson wrote “they refuse to pass out masks, even though administration said they would be available upon request."

He added his unit has been on a lockdown and “everyone is worried.”

“They’re on lockdown. They are allowed out for two hours a day," said the mother of one inmate.

My requests for information about a lockdown at area prisons or testing and COVID-19 cases among department employees have not been returned.

“This isn’t a violation of their health privacy just to say, ‘you know, X number at Tucson or Y number at Perryville Prison tested positive.’ That’s information that the public and the incarcerated people and their families and other employees of the department really need to know," said Kendrick.

Information, Kendrick said, anyone with loved ones behind bars and the communities surrounding them, deserves to know.

“He’s so run down and he’s just tired. He’s like, ‘Mom, I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ He has nine months left and the end of this nine months, I’m just so worried - I’m so worried," said the mother.

Governor Doug Ducey has said repeatedly that he will not consider releasing incarcerating people, as other states have decided to do. Under Arizona law, the only way that an incarcerated person can be released early for medical reasons is if they go before the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency in an “imminent danger of death” hearing if the medical provider completes a written prognosis statement that there is a reasonable certainty that the person’s medical condition will result in death within four (4) months from the point of application.

The ADCRR announced Friday it was extending visitation at state prisons for another 30 days, through May 13th. Officials said this is to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This includes legal and non-legal visits at facilities operated by the department and third-party operated facilities.

Copyright 2020 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.