ACLU of Delaware calling on Dept. of Corrections to increase COVID-19 response
DELAWARE – The ACLU of Delaware is calling on the state’s Department of Corrections to make some changes after a spike in COVID-19 cases at Sussex Correctional Institution. “Since COVID-19 first broke out in our country and in our state public health experts have been warning corrections officials that prisons and jails are one of the areas of highest risk,” said Executive Director Mike Brickner.
Brickner says the ACLU is asking the DOC to make testing universally available to inmates and staff at all facilities – including those who are asymptomatic. “We believe that everyone under the care of the DOC needs to be tested to understand better who is carrying COVID-19,” said Brickner.
The ACLU is also asking for more PPE to be provided to inmates and staff. “We want them to pledge to continue to do that as long as COVID-19 remains a danger in our community. Having access to that type of personal protective gear is incredibly important,” said Brickner.
Brickner says they’re asking the DOC to release those most vulnerable to COVID-19 and are within six months of the end of their sentence should be released. “We also need to look at people who are medically vulnerable who may be safe to be released back out into the community in places that are safe settings that are not going to be as dangerous for COVID contraction,” said Brickner.
Brickner tells 47ABC that staying safe from COVID-19 can be difficult in correctional facilities. “In these prisons it’s very difficult to encourage any kind of social distancing. People are often times in close quarters and unfortunately things are very hard to sterilize things on a regular basis in these types of facilities,” said Brickner.
The DOC says that they’ve already issued PPE to inmates and staff – and that they’re working on contact tracing. In an email, Chief of Communications and Community Relations Jason Miller said “All inmates at SCI and Morris Community Corrections Center were issued face masks when the current cluster of cases was identified, and all remaining inmates across all DOC facilities were issued face masks last week.”
Miller also said the DOC doesn’t have the authority to release inmates early – and that it comes down to case by case instances in the court system. “That process is facilitated through the Board of Parole and gives the Attorney General’s Office and victims the opportunity to weigh in on the deliberations. If the Board of Parole recommends a sentence modification that recommendation goes to the sentencing Judge which makes the final determination. Again, these decisions, by state law in Delaware, are made on a case-by-case basis,” said Miller.