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Caravan Of Protesters Call On Arizona Department Of Corrections To Release Inmates Vulnerable To COVID-19

The human rights activism organization Puente Arizona organized a "United for Freedom Caravan" at the Arizona Department of Corrections headquarters in Phoenix on Friday.

A caravan of activists practiced social distancing while protesting from their cars Friday as they circled the Department of Corrections building honking their horns and displaying messaging written on windshields and poster boards.

Puente spokesperson Erika Ovalle said the protesters were calling for the release of vulnerable populations in state prisons who are at risk for contracting COVID-19.

“We cannot sit idly by and just watch a virus turn the prisons into a death camp," Ovalle said. 

Ovalle says this is an opportunity to educate the public about who is in our jails and prisons. "It's a lot of people that can't afford bail — people with mental health and substance abuse issues — and a lot of people who have just been living in poverty," she said.

For those that cannot be released, Ovalle says Puente is calling for more transparency and accountability from the Department of Corrections.

"We want to see what measures they are really taking to protect incarcerated people during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Ovalle.

Puente organized similar recent actions at the Eloy Detention Center and the state prison in Tucson.

Ovalle says for those who cannot be released, Puente is calling for more transparency and accountability from the Department of Corrections.

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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.