Inmates Sue Over Safety Concerns
On March 27, two inmates in our prison system, have filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) which is the agency that runs the prisons. The Wallace Pack Unit, referred to as the Pack Unit, is a geriatric prison. The inmates there are older inmates who are more likely to have severe reactions if the contract COVID-19. Two inmates in the Pack Unit have filed a lawsuit saying they are not being given the necessary supplies to combat the virus.
The attorney handling the lawsuit is the same attorney who filed on behalf of inmates, regarding the lack of air conditioning in the prisons and the extreme heat the inmates were being subjected to. Since that lawsuit is still before U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison, this latest lawsuit was also given to him. According to the Texas Tribune article,
“The complaint asks U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison to provide all Pack Unit inmates unrestricted access to hand soap and disposable towels, access to hand sanitizer and enough supplies for hourly cleanings of common surfaces in housing areas, like phones and door handles. The lawsuit also requests strict social-distancing measures requiring at least 6 feet between people in group areas like the dining hall and recreation yards.”
Prison vs. Jail
This situation is different from a jail situation. Most inmates in a jail are waiting for their case to go to court. They have not been found guilty yet and may be determined to be innocent. The inmates in a prison have been found guilty and have been given a sentence. They can’t get a P.R. bond or pay a bond to get out. That phase is past. The only thing left for them to do is serve their time. But since the State put them there it has responsibility for conditions. Not only are detention facilities supposed to hold inmates but they are also supposed to do their best to keep them safe and healthy.
Are They Asking for Too Much?
What the inmates are asking for is no more than the general public is already doing. And their concern is legitimate. They are at higher risk being elderly individuals. The problem is, any kind of detention facility runs on a pretty tight budget. And even if the facility does have the money to buy additional supplies, I’m not sure those supplies are available. Everyone is having problems getting supplies. The article does mention that one of the prison units makes hand sanitizer. You would think that could be routed to the prisons, particularly the Pack Unit, but it’s probably contracted to be sold and the money is already being counted as part of the prison system’s funds. There will be people who don’t want to lose that revenue.
And social distancing is hard in a jail or prison. The facilities are not set up to give people their own personal space. There could probably be some rotating of when people are in different places but I doubt they will consistently be able to maintain 6 feet of separation. I’m very interested in the judge’s final determination. How will resolve this dilemma?
5 Louisiana Inmates Die From Virus
I didn’t write this post fast enough. When I first became aware of the situation there were four deaths. You can see the Vice.com article here. There are now five dead inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Oakdale in Louisiana. This is not surprising. Louisiana is notorious for having a truly horrendous prison system. According to the Vice article,
“The BOP currently reports only 11 confirmed COVID-19 cases among inmates at Oakdale, plus another four cases among prison staff, but VICE News has been told by employees there that the situation is much more grim.
At least 18 inmates have tested positive for the disease and are currently hospitalized, according to Eric Morris, a maintenance worker foreman at Oakdale who is president of the union for prison staff. Morris reports that 17 prison workers are confirmed to have COVID-19, including one who is hospitalized. Another 19 workers are awaiting test results, Morris said.”
That sure looks like a situation that is quickly getting out of control and it appears the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is trying to hide the full extent of the problem. Hiding the real numbers doesn’t change what is happening.
This is exactly the kind of situation our Texas jails and prisons are trying to avoid. And for those who don’t care because they’re “criminals”, I know I can’t convince you that they deserve humane treatment, but if you can’t feel for them at least look at the number of Louisiana employees who tested positive for COVID-19 and how many more suspect they’ve been infected but have not received their results yet. Remember, they’re all at one facility. That same thing can happen to jail and prison workers here in Texas. I hope you at least care about them.