So far, no state prison inmate in Colorado has tested positive COVID-19, and measures recently implemented by the state Department of Corrections are aiming to keep it that way as long as possible.
Unfortunately for prisoners and their relatives, those measures include a suspension on visitation to facilities, including those in the Rifle and Delta areas, by family members and by community volunteers who offer programs within the facilities.
The Department of Corrections plans to create a video visitation option in coming weeks, and will let inmates and their families know when that’s available.
Legal visits are still allowed, but physical contact is prohibited.
Also, the department has suspended work in local communities by inmate crews from the Rifle Correctional Center and Delta Correctional Center.
“All the steps we’re taking are to prevent (COVID-19) from getting into our facilities,” said Annie Skinner, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections.
As of the end of February, more than 17,400 inmates were in state and private prison facilities in Colorado. These include 475 at the Delta facility and 192 at the Rifle site.
The Department of Corrections is screening incoming inmates for COVID-19, and for those in custody who leave for visits to court, medical facilities, etc, and then return. It’s also assessing any inmates who may show signs of COVID-19, and screening staff and vendors.
Skinner said staff travel between facilities is being limited as well, and she’s not aware of any staff having tested positive for the coronavirus.
DOC is preparing emergency response plans should the virus enter any of its facilities.
With community volunteers unable to provide programs within facilities, Skinner said the department is looking at ways to expand recreational opportunities for inmates.
Prisons have stepped up cleaning and disinfection efforts. DOC says staff and most inmates have regular access to cleaning products, including for inmates wanting to clean their cells.
While soap and water are available to prisoners for hand-washing, hand sanitizer isn’t currently available to them due to its alcohol content and the potential for inmates to misuse it by consuming it. But Skinner said officials are looking at ways to provide the sanitizer in a controlled fashion.
This week, entities including the ACLU of Colorado and Office of the State Public Defender called on Gov. Jared Polis, the DOC, the Colorado Parole Board, court and judicial officials and others to reduce the number of people in prisons and jails through means just as increased use of clemency, more pretrial release, expanded parole of prisoners, and changes in arrest and sentencing practices.
Skinner said DOC doesn’t have plans to release offenders in response to the virus.
But she said many other suggestions in the letter relating to the DOC already had been implemented or were in process before it was sent, such as virus screening measures, video visits and continued access to legal counsel.