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Arizona Prison Chief Mandates Face Masks For Staff But Not Inmates

The Arizona Department of Corrections is requiring all staff members to wear masks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the prisons. 

However, the department is not making masks available to all inmates.

Director David Shinn issued a directive on Monday requiring all staff to wear masks in the prisons, while conducting transfers, and in hospitals.

The department  used inmate labor to make masks for staff, but most inmates do not have access to masks for their own protection.

Jared Wagoner, who was recently incarcerated at the Yuma prison, said despite reporting COVID-19 like symptoms to medical staff, he was not tested or given a mask.

“Administration was telling us to request them from medical. Medical was saying to request them from administration," Wagoner said of his and other inmates' attempts to get a mask. "It’s madness.”

Wagoner says Department of Corrections employees suggested inmates make their own masks out of their prison-issued shirts and boxer shorts.

He says he witnessed inmates who had attempted to make masks out of clothing and knee braces. "It's pretty sad," he said. "They didn't look very effective."

"I have a lot of friends in there," Wagoner said of the Cibola unit at the Yuma prison,  which recently experienced a large outbreak of COVID-19. "They're in these open-air dorms with no protection. They're living right in the middle of a COVID cloud."

A spokesperson for the department said it is "examining the expansion of our inmate masking process. In the meantime, we continue to follow CDC guidelines for correctional institutions in providing face coverings to inmates as needed."

→  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.