August 12, 2020
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IMAGE: Protest near Eloy Detention Center (NurPhoto / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Nearly half of employees at ICE Arizona Detention Center test positive for COVID-19

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WASHINGTON. About half of the staff in the Arizona pretrial detention center received a positive result on COVID-19due to the death of a guard, and, according to two employees and 14 migrants, due to a lack of staff, prisoners remain in their cells without access to showers, laundry and other basic necessities.

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CoreCivic, with which the company signed a contract for the maintenance of the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, said 127 of the approximately 300 CoreCivic employees at Eloy had shown positive results since the pandemic, although some of them recovered and returned to work. The immigration and customs authorities do not publicly report the number of contracted employees infected, so it is previously unknown how many employees there were in Eloy got the virus,

“There is fear in our state. How can you work in a place where you are afraid for your life or afraid for your family? ” one of the workers recently asked on condition of anonymity.

ICE reports that 222 immigrants Eloy’s prison sentence has been positive since the start of the pandemic, and immigrant rights groups have sued to see that more and more migrants are being released because of fears that they might become infected. The population of the institution is constantly moving, but it may contain 1,500 detainees.

Lawyers for the Florentine project, one of the groups fighting to free more migrants, spoke with 13 of their Eloy clients in June and said that almost everyone had reported a decrease in the number of guards who usually monitor their cameras.

Four reported that they were detained in their cells at least once for more than 24 hours due to the lack of security guards to monitor them; others constantly reported that they were kept in their cells all but 20 minutes a day.

“He said that over the past two weeks, the number of guards has been declining,” one of the migrants’ reports said, which lawyers reported in mid-June. “As a result, no one was able to take them during the recording time, so the recording time did not occur for a week and a half. Another service that is affected is laundry, which is reduced to once a week. People are starting to wash their own clothes. “

Another account said: “Yesterday, a client (Tuesday, June 16) said that due to the lack of security guards in Eloy, they were kept locked up in rooms (cells) all day, and this affects whether they can be attracted to the visit for a call their lawyers. “

The third June announcement said: “Another client at Eloy reports that they block him from 6:00 p.m. during the week and all day on weekends. She reports that she did not receive food or water for more than 24 hours on weekends due to a lack of staff. “

The fourth bill of the same time said: “The client again announced that he was in a blocking state from 7:00 to 15:00 the next day. The time when it is not blocked is the only time for swimming or making calls. ”

CoreCivic denies that during a pandemic, detainees were denied access to basic necessities, such as food, a shower, laundry, or access to lawyers.

“It might seem that detainees might use the word“ locks ”to refer to grouping procedures in an institution designed to prevent the spread of infection. There are no loss of privileges or actions during grouping. Prisoners were never restricted to their cells for 23 hours, “said a CoreCivic spokesman.

One staff member told NBC News in July, “Sometimes we don’t have enough staff to release the capsule,” referring to about 50 prison blocks. “They remain locked up because we don’t have enough staff to open this compartment.”

The spokeswoman said the ICE began voluntary testing of all prisoners in Eloy and stopped accepting all new arrivals “to further evaluate the current population and reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

Detainees and staff said they thought more needed to be done to contain the virus.

According to a statement in an Arizona federal court that had not been made public earlier, detainee Jargelis Madueno Davila told her lawyer in May: “Correctional officers do not use masks and gloves regularly. Even if they are wearing masks, correctional staff sometimes take them off to talk. “

A CoreCivic spokesperson said: “Following CDC guidelines, face masks have been provided to all employees and people under our care in every institution, including Eloy, since April. Staff must wear masks. ”

Yargelis also said: “For hygiene, we get three small containers with shampoo, about 1.5 ounces per week. We are not getting soap. ”

Responding to Jargelis’s accusations, CoreCivic said: “Soaps and other essentials, such as shampoo, are provided to prisoners for free. Prisoners can request and receive extra soap as needed. ”

She also told her lawyer that for a month she received only one mask and was able to reach out and touch the woman next to her when she spoke to her lawyer on the phone from Eloy, according to a lawsuit.

CoreCivic said: “If any detainee needs a new face mask, he is given one. “Two face masks were given to the prisoners, and on the days of washing they can wash their uniform.” In addition, according to CoreCivic, “the institution’s staff marked some phones that should not be used with the“ X ”symbol, or covered them with a plastic bag to create proper social contact when detainees need to make phone calls.”

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In a statement to NBC News, the company said: “COVID-19 created extraordinary challenges for every penal system and prison in America — public and private. At the same time, Arizona as a whole is experiencing a significant increase in COVID. -19 cases. We have worked closely with our government partners and government health officials to adequately, carefully, and carefully respond to this unprecedented situation for the well-being of those who are entrusted to us and our communities.

“These are unfounded accusations, and the claims simply do not reflect the positive, proactive measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, which our facility has been taking for several months. We deeply care for our hardworking, loyal employees and the detainees in our care, and we strive for their safety. We are working hard to ensure that they have the necessary tools to feel safe doing their work every day. “

“War Zone”

An employee said that in recent weeks, he and others have been scared to go to work at Eloy. He said facility managers should have been better able to inform staff early on whether they came into contact with someone who is infected with the virus.

“Most of our employees are in the war zone. We are exposed to daily exposure, ”said the employee. “They did not have the best contract tracking in the institution, and therefore I think the impact has spread between employees, prisoners and family members.”

PICTURE: Protest near Eloy Detention Center (NurPhoto / NurPhoto via Getty Images)
PICTURE: Protest near Eloy Detention Center (NurPhoto / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

CoreCivic said Eloy was “adequately staffed throughout the pandemic” and relocated 50 of its employees to the facility from other locations throughout the country.

“Part of our comprehensive COVID-19 planning includes contingent hiring costs from other agencies from across the country with lower COVID-19 exposure to support facilities that may have higher COVID-19 exposure,” the spokesman said in a statement.

CoreCivic provides increased pay to all employees who choose to appoint to other locations, as well as a “Hero Bonus” in the amount of $ 500 for all employees on the front line.

But another employee who spoke to NBC News said employees took the virus home and that some family members were infected.

Another employee said that after the death of a security guard, several employees stopped going to work “out of fear for their families.”

The employee, who is still going to work at Eloy, said he felt sorry for the detainees in their cells during the pandemic.

“They are locked. They cannot go about their business, ”he said. “We sometimes can’t let them use the phone because of a lack of employees. This suppresses not only detainees, but also employees. We see it on their faces. ”

Julia Ainsley reported from Washington. Jacob Soboroff reported from Los Angeles.

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