FWD.us Statement on the Arizona Department of Correction, Rehabilitation, and Reentry Reports in Rapid Increase of Confirmed COVID-19 Cases in Prisons Across the State

PHOENIX, AZ — FWD.us Arizona State Director Elissa Johnson issued the following statement on the alarming rise and spread of confirmed coronavirus cases in Arizona prisons:

“For weeks, advocates, correctional officers, former judges and prosecutors, lawmakers, and the families of incarcerated people have been urging state officials to reduce Arizona’s prison population to avoid coronavirus outbreaks and take action to protect incarcerated people and facility staff. Tragically, those calls have gone unanswered. Now, as feared, confirmed COVID-19 cases at state facilities are increasing rapidly. The predicted infection rates among incarcerated people and facility staff in Arizona’s prisons are staggering, and will have deadly consequences.

“Governor Ducey must take bold action immediately to reduce the incarcerated population and ensure the health and well-being of the tens of thousands of people incarcerated in Arizona’s prisons, facility employees, and the surrounding communities.”

In less than a week, the number of incarcerated people in ADCRR custody who have tested positive for COVID-19 has more than doubled, rising from 10 to 25. Due to limited supplies and lack of testing across the state, it is likely that the actual number of cases is much higher. Florence State Prison currently has the most cases in the system, with 15 confirmed cases and 33 pending tests.

FWD.us released a report today estimating the impact of COVID-19 on Arizona’s incarcerated population and prison employees using the COVID-19 Model for Incarceration created by Recidiviz, customized with Arizona-specific data. Using this model, we estimate that the coronavirus will peak in Arizona’s prisons in about a month. In three weeks, approximately 41,000 incarcerated people and 3,100 staff will have the virus. At the peak, at least 1,400 incarcerated people will be hospitalized, utilizing 12.6% of Arizona’s total hospital bed capacity. The virus is projected to kill 360 individuals incarcerated in Arizona state prisons, three times as many people as are currently on Arizona’s death row. Releasing 10,000 individuals would reduce the projected deaths by 24%.

Last week, a representative of an Arizona Correctional Peace Officer organization reported that at least 20 officers across the state prison system have tested positive for COVID-19, an increase from three reported cases at the start of April. Other reports indicate at least 300 staff were unable to report to work based on health screenings, but many were allowed to return to work within a few days without required testing.

The conditions in Arizona’s prisons are ripe for the rapid spread of COVID-19, because the system is operating at close to its maximum capacity, and 90 percent of the units are close-quarters dorm-style housing. The ADCRR’s healthcare provider has identified a population of approximately 6,600 incarcerated people who are vulnerable to COVID-19 based on their age and underlying health conditions. In early March, attorneys documented inhumane and unsafe conditions in several Arizona prisons. There are also recent reports of overcrowding and improper use of segregation.

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