05/01/2020

Department of Corrections releases case data on employees

Under legal pressure to release more data, the Arizona Department of Corrections has posted the number of staff who have self-reported positive cases of COVID-19.

So far, there are 46 employees who contracted coronavirus with 24 listed as “certified recovered.” 

The disclosure comes after weeks of refusals and denials by top state officials, including the Governor’s Office, which claimed the information could not be released due to state and federal privacy laws. 

We interviewed multiple top public information and health privacy experts who said the state’s position was ridiculous and their refusal was unlawful. 

This week, we issued final requests to the Department of Corrections for the staff data and prison locations as well as a similar demand to the Arizona Department of Health Services for the names and locations of long-term care facilities with positive COVID-19 cases. 

Officials were advised that the station would examine legal options to compel the release of the information if the requests were not fulfilled. 

For weeks, we have reported on positive cases inside the prison system. Sources have disclosed there were dozens of employees who were positive in at least seven prisons. 

The staff numbers often outpacing the number of inmate cases reported by the department. 

While the overall number of prison employees is a start, we are also seeking the number of staff cases by prison location.

Advocates, outside health experts, and attorneys worry about the spread of coronavirus within prison systems because they can serve as hubs for spread in the surrounding communities. 

A model released by FWD.us predicted that 99% of inmates in Arizona’s prison system could contract the disease due to the dormitory-style living quarters and the impossibility of social distancing. 

Arizona has more than 41,000 inmates and nearly 10,000 employees.

There are concerns with the accuracy and legitimacy of the Department of Corrections data. The numbers have shifted without explanation multiple times.

For example, on April 30, there were 50 inmates listed with cases. On May 1, the number dropped to 45.

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