Arizona Democrats want COVID-19 transparency from prison officials

May 12, 2020, 1:25 PM

PHOENIX – Democrats in the Arizona Legislature are calling for more transparency from state prison officials regarding the coronavirus situation.

House and Senate Democrats also released Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry Director David Shinn’s response to a series of questions they sent to him about the issue last month.

“Increased transparency will not only provide peace of mind to the many Arizonans whose loved ones are incarcerated or employed by the department; but provide an opportunity for analysis and improvement of those procedures,” the Democratic lawmakers said in a press release Tuesday.

They called for the state to take the following actions.

  • “As part of the Governor’s announced ‘testing blitz’ provide ample ongoing diagnostic and antibody testing for staff and inmates across the department and maintain a public and updated record of results.”
  • “Create and share with the public a long-term strategy for mitigating COVID-19 in the prison population and establish a system for interval diagnostic and antibody testing to protect against future outbreaks of COVID-19.”
  • “Work with county attorneys and the courts to release high-risk, non-violent offenders who have a year or less on their sentence and ensure that they have a safe place to go after release.”
  • “Allow a select group of legislators, media and AZDHS personnel to tour Florence and Perryville prisons in order to observe the department’s COVID-response procedures first-hand.”
  • “Release and demonstrate compliance with guidance provided by AZDHS staff for prevention and response to COVID-19 in prison facilities.”

The Democratic legislators sent Shinn 11 questions, some of them with multiple parts, on April 29, and he replied May 5.

Some of the questions focused on the Papago unit reopening, which Shinn said was planned before the pandemic.

Questions about COVID-19 testing for staff and inmates, staffing levels, protective equipment and virus-related costs were also asked and answered.

Some of the data requested was added to the corrections department’s COVID-19 dashboard between the time the questions were submitted and when Shinn sent his response.

One inmate death has been officially attributed to COVID-19, and four others are suspected but not yet confirmed, according to data on the dashboard Tuesday morning.

The department has tested 370 of its 41,000-plus inmates for coronavirus, with 60 confirmed cases, 242 negatives results and 47 pending. Sixteen of the patients have recovered.

Sixty staff members have self-reported positive tests, with 35 cleared to return to work by their personal doctors.

Shinn said he can’t say how often employees have taken days off because of coronavirus because they aren’t required to report reasons for using sick time.

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Arizona Democrats want COVID-19 transparency from prison officials