CCWF Conditions Deteriorate: CCWP’s Open Letter to Prison Officials – Continued Action Needed
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We are extremely concerned by how CCWF is handling this explosive outbreak of COVID-19. In just two weeks, COVID-19 cases rose to over 500, making CCWF among the top cluster of cases in CDCR prisons. The prison’s ineffective protocols and gross negligence have put many people in danger and caused unnecessary stress, confusion, and fear. For many of the people incarcerated at CCWF, their everyday experience is now one of chaos, extreme discomfort, and terror, where policies appear inconsistent and in many cases non-existent, and where there appears to be nothing in place to alleviate suffering and the very real threat of death.
In particular, we are concerned about the following:
- People in quarantine are not receiving regular medical check ups, including those who are returning from the hospital. This is a priority need. People who have tested positive for COVID-19 need regular medical attention. We demand that CDCR provide urgently needed healthcare, including mental health care, to people in quarantine at CCWF.
- Across the institution, CDCR is implementing chaotic moves, moving people from room to room, across units, and across yards with no clear plan or communication and often without any warning. Some people have been relocated as often as three times in two days. These moves mix the sick with those who have tested negative and cause panic and disorientation among people who are already sick and overwhelmed. CDCR must implement a clear plan that minimizes movement and allows people to recover in a more calm environment with adequate health care services.
- With each move, people are forced to pack quickly and abandon their property, including legal paperwork, with reports emerging of staff removing belongings from people’s rooms in their absence without clear mechanisms for retrieval. These displacements can seriously impact individual’s BPH hearings and legal cases.
- We have heard multiple accounts of staff harassing, mocking, and shaming people who have tested positive. People have also experienced threats of retaliation and have been issued 115s for speaking up about the conditions that they face. We demand an end to retaliation against incarcerated people who are fighting for life-saving changes to their quarantine conditions.
- People in quarantine are not being provided consistent access to communication. This includes access to phones as well as to electricity to charge tablets, both of which are critical to maintaining contact to support networks outside, and critical to mental health during a crisis. CDCR must ensure access to telephones, tablets, and electricity so that those placed in quarantine can maintain contact with their loved ones.
- Conditions inside quarantine units are dusty and filthy. CDCR must provide access to showers, laundry, clean N95 masks, gloves, and sufficient amounts of disinfectant and cleaning supplies for people in quarantine.
- We demand that CDCR do everything possible to expedite releases for medically vulnerable and elderly people regardless of conviction. In light of the worsening outbreak, CDCR must also enforce mask use by all staff and mandatory sick leave for staff who show any symptoms of illness and/or who test positive for COVID-19.
We urge you to seriously consider these issues and to implement increased oversight of staff in all units during the pandemic. We are particularly concerned about treatment in the COVID-19 quarantine units, where staff bias and fear may be contributing to mistreatment. We are also concerned about the risk of retaliation for incarcerated people who are reporting mistreatment.
Since CDCR’s announcements in March and July of 2020 that they would reduce the population to prevent the spread of infection, we have been troubled that there is no significant action to expedite releases for the most medically vulnerable people in CDCR prisons, including CCWF. We ask you to make every effort to convey this urgency to Governor Newsom and CDCR leadership, and to do everything in your power to support expedited releases. In particular, we encourage you to make full use of the 1170(d)(1) resentencing process by encouraging your staff to make recommendations, especially for those most at-risk to the deadly impacts of COVID-19.
This is an urgent situation that must be addressed. We have continued to document these problems and concerns since the onset of the pandemic and now, nearly a year later, find that very little has been done to prevent the spread or mitigate the impact of this deadly pandemic within CCWF. We urge you to act immediately given the increasingly dire situation that people face in your facility.
Below are more detailed accounts of the unacceptable and unsafe conditions.
COVID-19 QUARANTINE CONDITIONS AT CCWF
Conditions in COVID-19 positive units:
- Ongoing emergency mental healthcare is not being provided to everyone in COVID-19 quarantine.
- Across shifts, correctional officers are not rapidly responding to urgent calls for help in COVID-19 units (i.e. medical & mental health emergencies).
- In some cases, people who have been experiencing symptoms for as long as a week have not yet been provided any medication by medical staff.
- People are not being given their prescribed medication, menstrual products, or personal hygiene products.
- In some rooms, all eight inhabitants are sick and manifesting COVID-19 symptoms thus ensuring constant and prolonged exposure to the virus over a prolonged period.
- The conditions inside the quarantine units are filthy. Rooms have not been cleaned prior to relocation of people who have tested positive. People sent to quarantine have been placed in units with trash, feces-filled toilets, etc. and were forced to utilize used cleaning supplies from common areas to make the rooms liveable. In many cases there is a thick dust coating the surfaces in the living quarters. People are sleeping on torn mattresses and rusted bunks. This filth and dust exacerbates breathing difficulties for people already struggling to breathe and with reduced lung capacity because of the virus.
- There is little to no access to cleaning and disinfectant supplies. When people are able to access cleaning supplies, the substance is diluted to the point of being ineffective; there is a pervasive lack of access to hand sanitizers and antibacterial soap.
- Access to commissary is restricted thus severely limiting access to critical items including soap, laundry detergent, and food, as well as over-the-counter medications to alleviate symptoms like fever. In some cases, commissary is being capped at an arbitrary figure with no explanation.
- People are not consistently being provided showers. This situation is particularly dire given the filthy conditions of the rooms as well as the fever and sweating associated with the COVID-19.
- People are not being provided access to communication. This includes access to phones as well as to electricity to charge tablets, both of which are critical to maintaining contact to support networks outside, and critical to mental health during a crisis. The only access to electricity that people in the quarantine units have are electrical strips running through the hallways. This is not an adequate source of electricity for the many people currently being housed in the quarantine units and it also poses a significant fire hazard.
- There is no ongoing, on-site oversight of staff working in the COVID-19 units. This ensures that there is no effective monitoring regarding guard behavior and actions.
- We have heard multiple accounts of staff harassing, mocking, and shaming people who have tested positive.
- People have experienced threats of retaliation as well as rules violations for speaking up about the conditions that they face.
Housing & property:
- Rooms where people who tested positive lived are not properly disinfected after people are taken to quarantine. CCWF needs to put additional protocols in place to ensure that proper sanitation can occur given that much of the incarcerated workforce assigned to do janitorial labor is quarantined.
- People were forced to leave their property in their cells before being taken to quarantine. Staff are now bagging up people’s property from their rooms and taking these belongings to an undisclosed location, regardless of whether the person signed a chrono requesting their property remain in their original cell. In some instances, new people are being assigned to cells where the original inhabitants property has been left. These practices of separating people from their belongings not only cause additional disruption and stress, but prevent people from accessing legal paperwork.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Access):
- According to stated policy, incarcerated people are given five masks and can easily request additional masks from staff. However, there are multiple accounts of people who have been unable to access masks, including if their only mask breaks. Likewise, distribution of masks is infrequent. It is often several days before replacement masks are made available.
- It is unclear if there is a policy in place to ensure that requests for much-needed supplies – i.e. masks, PPE, cleaning & disinfecting supplies – are being acknowledged and addressed. This is particularly concerning given the numbers of both incarcerated and free staff who are unable to work. It is also unclear whether high-risk prisoners (COVID-19 positive or essential workers) have access to any N95 or equivalent masks.
- Staff are frequently seen without masks; overall, the practice of wearing masks among staff is inconsistent.
- Staff frequently do not wear gloves or do not just change their gloves with a frequency consistent with good hygiene practices for preventing contamination.
- Testing of staff is infrequent to the point of negligence and endangerment. Many staff are only being tested once a week when they work 5 – 7 days a week.
- We urge CCWF to perform daily rapid response COVID-19 tests on staff upon entering the prison in order to prevent further spread of the virus. We urge CCWF to enforce mandatory sick leave for staff who have tested positive or are showing COVID-19 symptoms.
- CCWF must implement an enforcement mechanism or consequence for staff not following guidelines.
- Adequate measures have not been taken to ensure that medically vulnerable people, including elderly and immunocompromised people, are protected from infection. This must be addressed immediately.
- Special medical services must not be disrupted for medically vulnerable and quarantined people, and there must be a consistent procedure for ensuring continuity of care for people with special dietary and chronic health conditions.
- Quarantine procedures must be followed consistently. For example, we are concerned that some people have tested negative but are still in COVID-19 quarantine, while others are still waiting on test results, but allowed out of quarantine. Given that current COVID-19 testing has a wide margin of error, we are concerned that those whose tests are “inconclusive” could be kept in quarantine indefinitely, creating an endless experience of isolation.
- There is lack of information made available and circulated to incarcerated people about COVID-19 (prevention and precautions, symptoms, best practices when sick, etc.) as well as a lack of information on the CCWF’s protocols for ensuring the health and safety of those in its custody. The policies and regulations appear disjointed, arbitrary, random, unevenly applied, and inconsistent thus increasing feelings of terror, isolation, disorientation, and confusion among the population.
- Family members and advocates are facing delays in receiving urgent medical updates and information about people with COVID-19.
- CCWF must increase access to information for people in all units about COVID-19 prevention, risks, symptoms, etc. The lack of information in the quarantine unit is particularly problematic, as people with COVID-19 navigate symptoms without basic health education.
- CDCR is currently feeding incarcerated people very little and dinner is now being delivered late in the evening.
- We have received multiple reports that food served is moldy and outdated.
- There are severe limits on commissary spending (down to $55 a month) resulting in a drastic cut in supplemental food (and hygiene), essentially forcing incarcerated people to choose between eating and trying to maintain hygienic practices to protect themselves during the pandemic.
- Quarterly packages which also contain food are in the warehouse but are not being distributed. Thus, boxes with food items that have already been paid for at great expense by family and loved ones are currently sitting in the warehouse and getting old and moldy. There are no plans in place to deliver or to replace the items that are going bad.