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Amidst Second Wave Of COVID-19 In Arizona Prisons, Families Call For Releases

Amidst a second wave of Coronavirus outbreaks in Arizona prisons, families are calling for their loved ones to be released.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Department of Corrections Director David Shinn said they  would not be reducing the prison population to mitigate the spread of the virus.

After  more than 600 inmates recently tested positive at the Yuma prison and hundreds more cases were reported across the state, inmate family members gathered at the Capitol on Thursday to call for their release.

Lisa White, whose son is incarcerated, listed some of the challenges incarcerated people are facing during the pandemic.

“Insufficient medical care. The inedible, rotten food. The lack of PPE. The lack of cleaning supplies that are provided on the inside." All of it, White said, was creating a "toxic breeding ground" for COVID-19. 

Community organizer Erika Ovalle called on the state to release elderly inmates, and people who are nearing the end of their sentences.

“We’re asking because our loved ones cannot protect themselves from overcrowding, and sharing the same air,” Ovalle said.

"We have pushed and pushed all summer long for people to be released with no answers from the Department of Corrections," Ovalle said. "Decarcerate now."

Ovalle said those inmates who cannot be released should be put in the highest possible priority group for vaccinations, because their health care is the responsibility of the state.

Prison reform organizer Holly Woods said the pandemic has halted programming that was once available to inmates, which is impacting their ability to earn early releases. "We're actually holding those inmate longer, when we should be letting them out," she said. 

"There are people inside that are just six months from the gate and they could end up dying from COVID-19," Woods said, referring to inmates who have are nearing their release date.

More than 5,400 inmates have been infected with COVID-19 in Arizona state prisons and 33 have died.

Infectious disease experts say that due to the nature of prisons and the lack of social distancing, the only way to effectively reduce the spread of COVID-19 is by reducing the population.

→  Get The Latest News On COVID-19 In Arizona 

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