Families of the incarcerated call for early prisoner release as coronavirus spreads in Arizona prisons

PHOENIX – President Donald Trump embarked on his second trip since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, flying to Arizona Tuesday to tour a factory that produces N95 masks.

Although Arizona remains under a stay-at-home order through at least May 15th, Gov. Doug Ducey has pushed to accelerate the reopening of the state despite a continued rise in coronavirus cases. Elective surgeries have already resumed and the state will reopen restaurants for dining on May 11th.

Yet, a developing situation in the state’s prison system threatens to derail efforts to reopen the state’s economy. The public health crisis unfolding in the U.S. prison system is particularly precarious in Arizona where Gov. Ducey has resisted early prisoner release in response to the pandemic.

The highly contagious coronavirus has a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations, especially those in enclosed spaces, like cruise ships and nursing homes. Prisons can also act as accelerators for the virus where conditions make social distancing and most public health guidelines virtually impossible to follow. The constant cycling of transmission between prison guards, staff and the inmates inside the system threatens a much broader impact on the national effort to flatten the curve.

As of Monday, the latest data from the Arizona Department of Corrections’ Covid-19 Dashboard showed a total of 63 positive cases and 5 deaths within the state’s inmate population. The dashboard tracks coronavirus numbers of the incarcerated, but until recently did not include statistics for prison guards or staff. The Arizona Department of Corrections now includes information on self-reported positive cases of prison staff and the number of staff who have recovered from the coronavirus.

Advocates and families of the incarcerated are calling for the early release of some prisoners because of the coronavirus pandemic. In the age of social distancing, families are taking to their cars and protesting in caravans–driving to prisons around the state to call for some early release. They fear that the overcrowding in Arizona state prisons paired with the lack of protective equipment available for both inmates and staff may have devastating implications for their loved ones inside the institutions.

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