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Newspaper: Arizona inmates’ letters cite COVID-19 lapses

October 3, 2020 GMT

PHOENIX (AP) — Numerous inmates say Arizona’s prison system has failed to provide necessary testing, supplies and treatment during the coronavirus pandemic, with one saying that effectively meant the state’s prisoners were sentenced to get infected with COVID-19.

Dozens of letters from inmates in recent months said the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry wasn’t protecting staff and inmates during the outbreak, the Arizona Republic reported.

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A department spokesperson denied many allegations by inmates, including that sick inmates weren’t tested. The spokesperson, Judy Keane, also cited health and safety protocols announced during the pandemic.

In the letters, the inmates described fears and frustrations and asked for help, while some provided graphic details of surviving the virus, the Republic reported. The newspaper reported that it received nearly 90 inmate letters from late March to September and that it withheld the inmates’ identities due to their concerns about possible retaliation.

“It is my belief that if you are sentenced to the Arizona Department of Corrections at this time, you are sentenced to COVID-19,” an inmate wrote on Aug. 31 inside the Tucson prison facility.

Inmates from multiple facilities made similar claims of not receiving essential items such as soap and masks, of common areas not being cleaned, of sick inmates not being tested for COVID-19 and of inmates with serious medical conditions not being provided treatment.

“Heaven help the inmates that develop a more serious medical issue while incarcerated,” an inmate inside the Eyman prison facility in Florence wrote on May 4. “If so, the first step the health unit takes is, ignore, conceal, or deny the issue exists.”

According to the department’s coronavirus dashboard, 40,051 inmates had been tested for the virus as of Friday and 2,587 inmates had tested positive. There have been 17 confirmed inmate deaths from the coronavirus and an additional 11 preliminarily deaths related to it, the website says.

The department told the Republic it had at least 700 self-reported positive cases among staff.

Keane said the department is monitoring “to ensure community standards in medical care.”

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She also said cleaning supplies were available at each prison facility and supplies were verified multiple times each week. She said the department cleaned common areas, bathrooms, living areas, and any area that was frequently touched.

“An inmate may request a new bar of soap when their current bar is finished,” Keane said.

She added that all employees entering Arizona prison complexes continue to undergo daily temperature checks at every facility.

Arizona’s prisons have a history of providing inadequate health care to inmates. The state remains under scrutiny in federal court for not complying with a 2014 class-action settlement on standards for health and dental care.