By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
The American Civil Liberty Union of Wyoming reached out to a number of state officials and departments this week, calling for the state to develop a plan to stop the spread of the coronavirus in the state’s correctional institutions.
“People who are incarcerated are highly vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious illnesses like the coronavirus,” the organization said in a news release on its website. “Once a contagious illness enters, conditions in correctional facilities are highly conducive to it spreading. People in prisons and jails live in close proximity to each other. Many are housed in large dormitories, sharing the same space. Even where people are housed in cells, the ventilation is often inadequate. People who are incarcerated are also often denied adequate soap and cleaning supplies, making infection control nearly impossible.”
The ACLU is asking officials in the Department of Corrections to work with the state Department of Health to address screening and testing of people in custody, housing for people exposed to the virus, access to treatment and more.
The organization is also calling for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to cease community sweeps, raids and transportation of detainees at the risk of spreading the virus.
In the letter sent to various officials, ACLU of Wyoming organizer Antonio Serrano suggested educating people in custody and state Department of Corrections staff about the virus and how to minimize the possibility of contracting or spreading it, creating a staffing plan in the event large numbers of staff are out sick, establishing hygiene provisions and more.
In response, C.J. Young, the DOC’s compliance manager, sent Serrano a recent department news release detailing how the department is responding to the virus. Steps include suspending visitation to department institutions, health screenings at facility entrances and establishing a protocol for virus screening.
“A lot of what the ACLU was asking us to do, we’d already implemented or have been working on,” said Mark Horan, the department’s public information officer.
ACLU chapters in other states are calling for the release of inmates at high risk of catching the virus or dying from it. The Wyoming ACLU did not specifically make such a request.
In his email, Young denied Serrano’s request for the release of the department’s emergency plans and documents related to the virus, citing security and safety concerns.
“Our reasoning for this denial is that these documents contain detailed plans by our department regarding the response, housing location and security measures that will be utilized inside our prisons,” Young wrote. “The release of these documents could endanger our operations and allow inmates to manipulate our system.”
Horan said there has been no discussion of releasing any inmates with health issues at this time.
“We’re assessing and reviewing plans on a daily and weekly basis,” he said. “So far, there are no confirmed cases at the Department of Corrections, in either the inmates or staff. We’re doing everything we can to prevent it from coming into the prisons and certainly we hope it doesn’t spread to any of them.”