ACLU of Delaware Renews Call for Universally-Available Testing and PPE Following DOC Announcement of Over 300 COVID-19 Positive Cases
WILMINGTON – The Delaware Department of Correction today announced that 337 people living in DOC facilities in Sussex County, as well as 21 officers, have tested positive for COVID-19. These numbers, while staggering, do not come as a surprise to advocates who have been calling on DOC to increase safety measures to protect those living and working in Delaware’s correctional facilities since March.
“When COVID-19 first hit the US, public health experts warned that jails and prisons needed to take precautions to ensure that lives were not endangered. We echoed those calls here in Delaware, and they were repeatedly unanswered,” said Mike Brickner, ACLU of Delaware Executive Director. “DOC must immediately make testing and PPE universally available to everyone in its facilities. While DOC has done so for people in the facilities experiencing an outbreak, they must take immediate action to track and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in other facilities. What we are witnessing in the Sussex facilities is a direct result of past inaction.”
“The pandemic is not abating any time soon, and we must begin to prepare for a longer term fight to prevent its spread. State leaders must consider the release of medically vulnerable people who pose little risk to public safety, but could be exposed to COVID-19 in DOC facilities. In addition, people who are within six months of the end of their sentence should also be released to ease crowding and ensure CDC guidelines can be observed,” added Brickner.
Delaware is not alone. Correctional facilities across the country have refused to take public health recommendations seriously. According to a report by the ACLU and Prison Policy Initiative (Failing Grades: States’ Responses to COVID-19 in Jails and Prisons), nearly every state in the Union failed to respond adequately to the crisis in our jails and prisons. Delaware’s “F” score is a timely reminder that our Department of Correction hasn’t done enough to protect those under its care.
In today’s announcement, DOC made prominent the fact that 90% of these new cases are asymptomatic, seemingly highlighting this point as a positive development but advocates disagree. The number of asymptomatic cases clearly points to the critical need for immediate increased safety measures in all of DOC’s facilities.
“If that many people are asymptomatic in one facility it begs the question: how many people are asymptomatic and spreading the virus in other facilities?” said Brickner. “This is a question that we simply can’t answer without universally-available testing.”
It’s not too late for Delaware to change course and confront the public health crisis in our state’s prisons. Today, the ACLU of Delaware is renewing our call to the Department of Corrections to take immediate steps to protect those living and working in all of the state’s correctional facilities by:
Making testing universally available to every incarcerated person and employee in every facility;
Providing proper personal protection equipment (PPE) to all people living in DOC facilities across the state; and
Immediately releasing those most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 and those within six months of the end of their sentence, where there is little to no risk to public safety.
As COVID-19 continues to sweep across our nation, we must strive to ensure all people are protected from disease and sickness–especially those most vulnerable in our state correctional facilities.
This press release can be found online here.
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