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AFSC-AZ Presses Health Officials for Details on COVID in State Prisons

By AFSC-AZ Staff |

A coalition of public health and criminal justice reform organizations, led by AFSC-Arizona, has sent a second letter to the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) requesting greater transparency regarding its role to protect, test, and treat incarcerated people and prison staff.

During Governor Doug Ducey’s press briefing on May 12, 2020, Director Dr. Cara Christ announced that ADHS would begin antibody testing for all prison guards, work with the University of Arizona to perform diagnostic testing for approximately 9,000 guards, and have epidemiologists go to state prisons, provide on-site technical assistance on infection control, and make sure that CDC guidelines are being followed.

The latter appears to be a response to our coalition’s initial request to AZDHS, in which they outlined numerous areas in which the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation & Reentry (ADCRR) was failing to follow CDC guidelines for correctional institutions. The letter requested ADHS inspections of prison facilities to ensure that the guidelines were being properly and consistently implemented.

While our coalition is encouraged by the Governor’s steps to address these issues, the announcement by Dr. Christ raised more questions than it answered. No specifics were provided to clarify when additional testing would begin or in which facilities. Perhaps more importantly, it is unclear whether or how the public will be informed as to the testing, results, or location information about outbreaks.

Our coalition’s second letter requests clarification on these issues, and makes two specific recommendations for changes to ADCRR’s policies:

ADCRR should require all staff to wear masks at all times. This is currently voluntary for most staff (who are not working at a facility where there are medically-quarantined people) and, therefore, provides inadequate and inconsistent protection against the spread of COVID.

Allow incarcerated people to wear masks if they choose and make them available to all.

“While we appreciate the Governor and Dr. Christ’s response, Arizona prisons remain woefully behind on implementing even the most basic protections,” said Caroline Isaacs, AFSC-Arizona Program Director. “Given the recent news of the severe outbreak in the Yuma prison and the town of Eloy (which hosts numerous public and private prisons), it is imperative that ADHS recognize the unique risks inside our prisons and take immediate action to protect incarcerated people, staff, and the public.”

Categories: Blog

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