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Minimum Custody Arizona Inmates Plead For Early Release From Prison Over Coronavirus Fears

A group of inmates incarcerated at one of Arizona's private prisons is asking Gov. Doug Ducey to release people who have been convicted of non-violent crimes to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Rene Maldonado Dominguez is incarcerated at the Marana Community Correctional Treatment Facility, a private prison near Tucson.

The prison houses 450 minimum custody inmates who have demonstrated a need for substance or alcohol abuse treatment. According to the Arizona Department of Corrections, minimum custody inmates represent a low risk to the public and staff.

Dominguez recently sent a letter to Ducey, cosigned by more than 200 fellow inmates, asking to be released early because they fear becoming infected with the coronavirus.

“Sixty to 120 individuals live in common areas, in very confined spaces,” Dominguez wrote. “Beds are only 2 to 3 feet apart from each other.”

“Perhaps, in normal conditions, this system has worked,” Dominguez continues. “However, during this pandemic, places like these represent nothing less than a time bomb.”

Gov. Ducey’s office did not respond to a request for a comment about the letter.

Dominguez described the effort in a recorded conversation with his wife, Monica Coronado.

“It’s unsafe and unjust to keep us here in this situation where we cannot properly defend ourselves against this pandemic,” Dominguez said. “We are all terrified.”

Three inmates at Marana have already tested positive for COVID-19 and Dominguez says he fears the virus is spreading quickly. He said inmates at Marana were only getting small amounts of soap for bathing every two weeks.

“Everyone in this facility is non-violent,” he said. “We’re human beings who are soon to be released.”

Coronado said her husband wrote an English and Spanish version of the letter and personally read it to most of his fellow inmates at Marana.

“He’s always helping others,” Coronado said. “This is typical of him, he’s always putting other people first.”

Coronado said Dominguez has a tough exterior, but she can tell he is very scared of contracting the virus.

“They live and sleep so close to one another,” Coronado said of the Marana facility. “At night, he tells me you can hear the music coming the headphones of your bunkmates.”

She said Dominguez and his fellow inmates decided they had to do something to try and alert the public about their concerns.

“He told me they didn’t want to just sit there and wait to die,” Coronado said.

She said her husband, like many of the inmates at Marana, has just a few months left of his sentence. “When they pled guilty to these crimes, they weren’t supposed to be signing up for a death sentence.”

Coronado says she hopes Dominguez will be able to return home safely so he can help raise their children and return to his job.

Dominguez ends the letter with a final plea to Gov. Ducey.

“Please do not wait for this to become a real tragedy,” Dominguez writes. “It would be better to go down in history as a leader that helped save lives, than one that left people behind.”

→  Read The Latest News On The Coronavirus Disease 

Jimmy Jenkins is a senior field correspondent at KJZZ and a contributor to NPR’s Election 2020 and Criminal Justice station collaborations. His work has been featured on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Marketplace, Here and Now, The Takeaway and NPR Newscasts.Originally from Terre Haute, Indiana, Jenkins has a B.S. in criminology from Indiana State University and a master’s degree in journalism from Indiana University.Much of his reporting has focused on the criminal justice system. Jenkins has reported on Tasers, body cameras, use of force, jail privatization, prison health care and the criminal contempt trial of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.