Arizona's Yuma prison officials threatened inmates to refuse Covid-19 test to keep numbers low, allege families
Two correctional officers also confirmed that officials instructed inmate 'heads' to refuse tests to keep case numbers low
Inmates at the Yuma Territorial Prison in Arizona were allegedly detered from getting Covid-19 tests to keep the prison's case numbers low. Two guards and three family members of inmates have alleged that prison administrators and staff threatened inmates to discourage them from getting COVID-19 tests. The Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) has since called the allegations "unsubstantiated."
The Phoenix NPR station KJZZ quoted Stephanie Hale-Perry, the wife of an inmate, as saying that based on what she heard from her husband, "The inmate leaders in his yard said that all inmates were to refuse the test, otherwise they were going to get a beat-down." Hale-Perry claims that the threats began soon after the prison's deputy warden, correctional officers, as well as members of the special services investigation unit met with the 'heads'.
These heads are informal inmate leaders and "the prison administrators told the Heads, 'Make sure the people in your building or in your run don't get tested,'" Hale-Perry claimed. "They used violence and other threats as the scare tactic to prevent the testing from happening. I'm extremely upset. The Department of Corrections is playing politics with my husband's life."
Another Yuma inmates' mother, Suzanne McMillan, talked about how her son was threatened too. Speaking with KJZZ, McMillan said, "The heads came into the inmate bays where they live with an SSU officer, and they told everyone 'Do not test,'. They were told, if they accepted the testing, they would be shipped off to a different yard, lose all their possessions, and not be able to contact family members."
McMillan also expressed her lack of faith in the words or actions of the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC). She neither believes them regarding their response to the epidemic nor does she think that they have the inmates' best interests at heart. Her son stood up to the threats, McMillan said, adding how the inmates collectively opted to take the nasal swab test after finding out on the news that other state prisons were conducting Covid-19 tests within the facility. Another woman who used the pseudonym 'Avery Contreras' to protect her husband's identity claimed that a correctional officer had made the same threats as described by McMillan. Contreras's husband and other inmates opted to get tested despite threats to protect themselves from the virus.
The correctional officers at Yuma also confirmed to the outlet that the meeting had taken place. Choosing to keep their identities undisclosed, they believe the administration was encouraging these inmate heads to get the rest of the inmates to refuse Covid-19 tests to result in fewer positive results so prison yards could be reopened sooner.
KJZZ reports that the Arizona Department of Corrections recently began conducting tests on a mass scale of all inmates across the entire state prison system. This has also resulted in a significant increase of positive cases being reported. ADC spokesperson Bill Lamoreaux however denied the allegations. He said around 4,500 Yuma inmates received coronavirus tests. "[ADC] takes such allegations seriously," Lamoreaux said. "If you have any information about credible threats, we ask you to forward them to us so they can be investigated."