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Staff attorney says unsanitary conditions contributed to COVID-19 outbreak in Whetstone unit

Posted at 9:22 PM, Aug 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-07 00:23:00-04

TUCSON, Ariz. -- More than 500 inmates tested positive for COVID-19, inside the Whetstone unit at the Tucson state prison.

Now, staff attorney Corene Kendrick is speaking out about her experience walking through the unit.

“Many of the prisons, they’re very old and decrepit. They’re kind of an incubator for possibly transmitting the virus,” she told KGUN9.

Kendrick is an attorney at the prison law office in Berkeley, California.

“My office and the ACLU brought a lawsuit about medical care against the department called Parsons vs. Shinn. And so as part of the settlement we go and monitor the prisons,” she added.

So they came out to visit the Tucson state prison in February. Here’s what they saw inside the Whetstone unit.

“It’s a dormitory and it was pretty crowded. People live in these dorm settings where it’s a giant room and there are 100 bunk beds. The beds are not six feet apart,” Kendrick said.

She said before Governor Ducey declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19, she and her colleagues stated their concerns to the Arizona Department of Corrections, but she says not much was done.

“Since March we’ve been raising concerns about the hygiene and filth of many of the prisons. It was not until early July that the department finally allowed incarcerated people to wear face coverings. Beforehand if somebody tried to cover his face with a homemade mask, they would get threatened with a disciplinary ticket from the officers for trying to disguise themselves,” he said.

Actions or lack thereof that Kendrick says has amounted to at least 517 inmates, inside the Whetstone unit, testing positive for COVID-19.

In a statement the Arizona Department of Corrections said in part:

“Inmates who tested positive are currently being housed as a cohort together in separate areas and are receiving appropriate medical care. They will not be allowed back into the general population until they have been medically cleared,” Kendrick told KGUN9.

Kendrick says the prison system can and should do better or contagion will get worse.

“The living conditions that people are in definitely impact whether an infectious disease spreads like wildfire, and unfortunately it appears that’s what’s happened at this dormitory,” she said.

At least three coronavirus deaths have been confirmed in the Tucson state prison and five inmates have potentially died from COVID-19.