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  • Writer's pictureSmart Justice Arizona

As COVID-19 rages across Arizona, our loved ones in Arizona prisons need help.

As COVID-19 rages across Arizona, it continues to wreak havoc on the lives of incarcerated people.

So far, at least 46 people have died of COVID-19 while living in an Arizona prison. Those are only the deaths that the Arizona Department of Corrections(ADOC) has told us about.

Thousands more have tested positive. While some have fully recovered, others are experiencing the long-term effects of the COVID-19 virus. This, coupled with the Arizona Department of Corrections’ notoriously poor health care system, is creating circumstances of cruel and unusual punishment. And while Gov. Ducey said he will prioritize incarcerated people in the vaccine rollout, many people are not being given the information they need to make a concrete decision about whether to accept the vaccine.

Gov. Ducey and Prisons Director Shinn have failed on multiple fronts, leading to preventable deaths. Yet, they continue to issue press releases applauding themselves for doing the bare minimum to address the threat of COVID-19 in state prisons. It’s time they do more.

In the wake of the growing positive cases in Department of Corrections, the ACLU of Arizona’s Campaign for Smart Justice is calling for:

  • Rapid testing for all incarcerated people now. ADOC recently announced that they will be testing all incarcerated people in the near future and will make rapid testing available for staff. It is imperative that ADOC use rapid testing for incarcerated people too. Currently, incarcerated people are subjected to extensive turnaround times for lab processing. This means that people are having to wait several days for results to come back while risking passing the virus on to others. It also means people could be exposed and infected in between getting tested and receiving their results. With rapid testing, staff could make timely decisions and quarantine people who’ve tested positive immediately to stop the spread.

  • Regular and mandatory testing for staff and service providers and mandatory time-off for infected employees. Currently, testing for staff is optional and self-reported. Mandatory testing would ensure that staff who may be positive and asymptomatic can quarantine accordingly instead of continuing to work and expose their colleagues and incarcerated people to the virus. It should also be required and enforced that these employees do not work while infected and contagious.

  • Require Centurion, ADOC's health care provider, to take the complaints of the incarcerated seriously. If someone is complaining of any symptoms related to COVID-19, they should be tested within 24 hours. Prolonging the complaints of illness allows for the virus to be spread amongst dorm-like settings where people live in close quarters.

  • Require staff and service providers to wear proper PPE at all times. We know that ADOC staff are currently able to wear any mask to work. It’s been proven that some types of face coverings are less effective than others. The N-95 mask is approved by the CDC and ADOC staff should be using these masks. Since visitation has been closed for over 10 months, staff pose the biggest risk of bringing the virus into the prison and infecting our family members. It is imperative staff has proper equipment to effectively protect themselves, their coworkers and the incarcerated.

  • Ensure soap, bleach, and cleaning supplies are readily accessible to all incarcerated people. We continue to hear reports from inside that bleach and other effective cleaning supplies are not allowed or that it is being distributed irregularly. CDC guidelines make it clear that these supplies are necessary to effectively stop the spread of COVID-19.

  • Provide educational materials about the vaccine to all. Currently, incarcerated people are given a survey asking if they’d like to get the vaccine. While we know vaccinations are a choice, it is important to provide educational information about the vaccine to the incarcerated. This allows the population to learn how the vaccine may affect them and make an educated decision for themselves. Many incarcerated people we have spoken to have chosen to not even complete the survey because they feel that they do not have enough information to make a confident decision to get the vaccine.

  • Timely Vaccine Distribution. While Gov. Ducey has said he would prioritize the incarcerated population for vaccine distribution, we have seen time and time again ADOC break its promises and fail to provide adequate health care. It is imperative that ADOC follows through on the Governor’s plans to take measures to get their staff and incarcerated people vaccinated immediately. These measures should be well articulated, documented and publicly available so that we know exactly how our incarcerated loved ones are being protected.

  • Immediate releases of vulnerable populations . Since the beginning of the pandemic, health experts made it clear that the most effective way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in prisons was to reduce the prison population. Yet, Gov. Ducey has ignored this advice and made absolutely no effort to allow people to come home where they can safely socially distance with loved ones. Gov. Ducey should release people who are over the age of 65, those who have underlying health conditions, those that are within six months of their release date and all others who pose no serious or immediate safety risk to the community. This will allow ADOC to lighten the population and slow the spread. This is the most effective and reasonable solution that will get the current outbreak under control.

Gov. Ducey has a duty to protect the lives of all Arizonans, including those living in state prisons. We will continue to pressure him to live up to that duty. We need your help. To join our fight, sign up to get involved at:

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