Inmates say they did not even provide face masks until the coronavirus spread through the facility.
Inmates at El Paso County Jail in Colorado have filed a lawsuit against the local sheriff, alleging the facility’s staff risked the inmates’ lives by failing to provide adequate protection against the novel coronavirus.
According to The Denver Post, the lawsuit was filed on Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union in Colorado along with three private companies. The complaint reports that an ongoing coronavirus outbreak in the prison has infected more than three-quarters of the facility’s 1,200 inmates.
The Colorado ACLU claims that the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department did not make masks available to the general inmate population until November – long after COVID-19 was already circulated at the facility.
Previously, inmates allegedly tried to protect themselves from the virus by making makeshift masks from underwear and sheets.
Even these homemade attempts, however, were banned – in some cases punished – by El Paso prison guards.
“Hundreds of people contracted COVID-19 in prison and suffered unnecessarily because the sheriff intentionally indifferently failed to protect them from obvious infection and health risks,” said Dan Williams, one of the lawyers who represented the inmates. “In the meantime, those who have not been infected with the virus live in constant fear as they look for sick bunkmates, cough prison staff and generally disregard security.
Image via Rennett Stowe / Flickr / Wikimedia Commons. (CCA-BY-2.0)
“In the time it took to prepare this case,” Williams added, “people who tested negative multiple times have now tested positive and got sick.” Urgent is an understatement. “
Williams and the other attorneys also claim that the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has failed to meet its obligations to inmates on other fronts. The lawsuit alleges that MPs did not separate healthy inmates from sick inmates. In many cases, inmates who became ill had to recover in their bunks with little or no medical assistance.
Prison workers, the Post said, reportedly told concerned inmates they wanted to “let the coronavirus go”.
The Denver Post notes that most inmates of the El Paso County Jail stay behind bars because they couldn’t bail – most have yet to be convicted of a crime.
The lawsuit points to the lack of a coherent masking policy in prison as evidence of willful indifference.
“While myriad deficiencies caused the outbreak and continued to expose plaintiffs and class members, as claimed here, the lack of a mask policy in prison most clearly shows the accused’s deliberate indifference,” the lawsuit said.
The Denver Post notes that the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has received more than $ 15 million in federal funding earmarked for coronavirus-related purchases.
However, the sheriff had to spend those funds on facility modernization and other unrelated projects, including expanding the staff locker rooms.
The lawsuit, KKTV said, is not asking for monetary damages or any other financial award – it is merely asking El Paso to make fundamental changes to its coronavirus containment strategy, such as: For example, to give the inmates cloth masks and to isolate inmates who test positive for the virus.
ACLU files lawsuit against Sheriff Bill Elder over COVID outbreak in prison
El Paso County prison inmates were not given masks prior to one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in Colorado
Inmates are suing El Paso County Jail for failing to provide masks for failing to take COVID-19 precautions