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Whistleblower says Arizona prison officers denied protection from virus

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

PHOENIX – An Arizona prison officer has filed a whistleblower complaint accusing the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry of prohibiting employees from wearing protective masks during the COVID-19 outbreak because it would scare inmates.

In a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey and Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ dated March 26, Lt. Mark Hasz said ADCRR Director David Shinn refuses to let staffers wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as N95 masks designed to protect them from the coronavirus.

Hasz, who in his letter says he is assigned to the Lewis Prison in Buckeye, said Shinn acknowledged banning PPE for his staff during a town hall meeting about coronavirus issues.

“Director Shinn had given the order because he believed that masked officers would scare the inmates,” Hasz wrote. “This reasoning is ridiculous and Director Shinn’s decision is putting the health of the staff, inmates and the general public at increased risk.”

The letter was made public Tuesday by the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association. The labor group also submitted the complaint to Christ, saying, “We are asking you to intercede from a public health perspective.”

Hasz said thousands of correctional officers come into close contact each day with approximately 40,000 state inmates without protection and then return to their homes.

“Any staff infected at work in the prison will bring the virus back to their families and communities,” he wrote.

He added that the department has N95 masks in storage it won’t issue, and supervisors have been prohibiting staff members who brought their own PPE from wearing the protection.


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