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Arizona Governor Will Not Release Inmates From State Prisons To Mitigate Coronavirus Risk

Doug Ducey
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Gov. Doug Ducey explains his decision to create a list of "essential services" should he decide that everyone else needs to stay home on March 23, 2020. With him is Cara Christ, the state health director.

The health care contractor for the Arizona Department of Corrections has identified approximately 6,600 inmates in state prisons at high risk for contracting the coronavirus, based on their age and underlying medical conditions.

But on Tuesday, a spokesperson for Gov. Doug Ducey, Patrick Ptak, said Ducey will not be releasing any inmates to mitigate the spread of the virus.

"We're going to protect public health and public safety and the Department of Corrections, Reentry and Rehabilitation is working with public health officials and following CDC guidance for correctional facilities," Ptak said.

ACLU National Prison Project Director David Fathi said the decision is out of step with what other state departments of correction are doing.

“It flies in the face of everything we know about how to best contain and slow the spread of the virus in prisons," Fathi said, "and it is a decision that will cost lives and not only the lives of prisoners.”

Although the  Arizona Department of Corrections says there are currently no confirmed cases, Fathi said when the virus does enter the prisons the death toll could be significant. 

Fathi said his office will continue to fight for vulnerable Arizona inmates to be released.

"The virus doesn't distinguish between prisoners and staff and it doesn't respect the prison walls," Fathi said. "So if prisoners have it today, staff will have it tomorrow, and staff members' families and the people in the community will have it the day after that. We are truly all in this together."

→  Read The Latest News On The Coronavirus Disease 

Jimmy Jenkins was a producer and senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2014 to 2021.