COVID-19 cases grow among U.S. Marshals detainees at Arizona jail

CoreCivic facilities struggle to contain virus, face legal challenges in court

Before the virus hit the Florence facility, federal prosecutors asserted in court filings that CoreCivic had taken steps to reduce the risk of an outbreak at its facilities by screening new detainees at intake, increasing cleaning at the facility, taking the temperature of staff and isolating the most at-risk detainees, among other steps.

But the revelation that COVID-19 is now spreading inside the jail comes as CoreCivic faces the challenge of mitigating the virus in its other prisons and detention centers. The company runs prisons across the U.S., including two other private prisons and two immigration detention centers in Arizona. 

Caroline Isaacs, program director for the American Friends Service Committee in Arizona, said she worries there is too little local oversight of how CoreCivic handles the pandemic – particularly since most of its Arizona facilities contract with federal agencies or other states. 

“If they don’t have a contractual relationship with state or local government, they don’t have to tell us anything,” Isaacs said. “We have zero oversight…in the middle of a pandemic.”

Positive COVID-19 cases in La Palma Correctional Center, a CoreCivic immigrant detention facility in Eloy, have jumped from two to at least 36 in less than a month. The company has confirmed that ten of its La Palma employees have also tested positive. AZCIR has previously reported the tactic of “cohorting” detainees who have been exposed to the virus could result in the virus spreading further, according to public health experts. In interviews with AZCIR, detainees at La Palma said they had insufficient access to soap, PPE, cleaning supplies and medical care – claims CoreCivic spokesperson Amanda Gilchrist has previously denied. 

Another CoreCivic facility, Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, has more than 200 positive COVID-19 cases among detainees in ICE and U.S. Marshals custody according to reports by the San Diego Union Tribune. A 57-year-old man who had been held at the facility as an ICE detainee died of the virus earlier this week, the reports said. 

Two CoreCivic employees who worked at Otay Mesa sued CoreCivic last month in federal court, alleging the company did not do enough to protect staff from the pandemic.

“Since even before any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our facilities, we have rigorously followed the guidance of local, state and federal health authorities, as well as our government partners,” Gilchrist wrote in a May 8 statement. “We have responded to this unprecedented situation appropriately, thoroughly and with care for the safety and well-being of those entrusted to us and our communities.”

U.S. Marshals spokesperson Lynzey Donahue said the agency contracts out for all its detention needs, and those facilities “are responsible for the medical care that USMS prisoners receive.” 

She also said, “All training protocols, quarantine decisions or policy adjustments are made at the facility level.”

Donahue said in a statement that 488 people in U.S. Marshals custody across the nation had tested positive as of May 5. The agency is responsible for 61,000 people on a daily basis, she said.

Comments are closed.