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Arizona Correctional Officers Union Threatens Walkouts Over COVID-19 Concerns

The leader of an Arizona correctional officers union says the COVID-19 threat is becoming so severe in state prisons that if their demands for more protective measures and transparency are not met, they will walk off the job.

The Arizona Department of Corrections refuses to disclose the number of correctional officers who have tested positive for COVID-19. But Carlos Garcia, spokesman for the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association, says at least 30 officers have tested positive, and hundreds more are showing symptoms.

Garcia says several of the state prisons are already below critical staffing levels. 

“It’s like being in the Titanic by yourself with a Dixie cup trying to get the water out," Garcia said. 

Garcia said a female kitchen worker at the Perryville women's prison has tested positive for COVID-19.

"It means that there has been exposures of an epic proportion on Perryville Complex," Garcia said.

Garcia is calling for N95 masks for all staff, as well as increased testing for staff and inmates.

In a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey and Department of Corrections Director David Shinn, Garcia said if their demands aren’t met, correctional officers will walk off the job because they fear for their lives.

"If you ignore us we will gather a boatload of citizens, both correctional and inmate family members, and we will post ourselves in front of the Capitol building," Garcia said.

→  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.