ECSO pushes back on claims that inmates aren’t being protected from the coronavirus

Published: Jun. 26, 2020 at 7:27 PM CDT
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ODESSA, Texas (KOSA) -

Ector County’s jail is reporting that 10 inmates at their facility along with one officer have contracted COVID-19.

Friday afternoon, a small protest was held claiming the jail isn’t doing enough to protect the inmates.

The small group said at the protest, they’re afraid for the inmates inside.

The group said their loved ones told them they don’t have access to masks and not enough sanitization supplies to keep themselves healthy.

Another protester also said one of their loved ones was sick for weeks before she was tested for the virus.

This group said they want their voices hear so the inmates can get the same level of protection against the virus while they’re behind bars as they would if they were free.

“To stand for our family members,” Leticia Medina said. “That is my purpose. That’s why I’m here. I’ll do anything in my power to save my daughter’s life.”

However, the sheriff’s office and jail leaders told a very different story.

Our newsroom has received several complaints from inmate families saying the jail isn’t doing enough to protect them from the coronavirus.

Those complaints said it takes an unreasonably long time to get tested for the virus after they started feeling symptoms, inmates aren’t given protective equipment like masks and sanitizer and exposed people aren’t being properly quarantined.

But ECSO said not so fast.

“A lot of information coming from family members are false,” Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis said.

The jail’s administrator Steven McNeil said their medical staff doesn’t ignore symptoms.

“If a person has a fever or any kind of symptoms like that, we’ll have a medical nurse come check them within that same day,” McNeil said.

As for sanitation, ECSO said the inmates clean their cells daily.

“Walls, floors, chairs, doorknobs,” Ector County Jail’s Head of Nursing TJ Powell said. The entire medical department is followed. Our entire jail is cleaned in the same way.”

They just can’t keep the supplies without supervision.

As for masks, Griffis said only inmates with symptoms are given masks, though they often throw them away.

He said masks aren’t given to all the inmates because of a different safety issue.

“A lot of these masks have materials in them that can be used for weapons or other devices,” he explained.

That’s the only procedure they mentioned that goes against the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, which recommends everyone wear a mask especially if cases start popping up.

“It would be highly recommended to issue those masks to all the staff and all the inmates,” Texas Commission on Jail Standards Executive Director Brandon Wood said. “If the inmates decide they don’t want to wear them, that’s not something that should result in a use of force, possibly a disciplinary, but not a use of force.”

The final complaint we’ve heard—inmates aren’t being quarantined well enough to prevent future spread but ECSO said if there is any exposure the entire cell block is isolated.

The 25 person blocks are a lot of people lumped together but the jail said they can only realistically isolate confirmed cases, so the best they can do is lockdown cells that might have been exposed and watch closely.

“Everyone in that cell is checked every day to ensure there is no more symptoms and if it’s symptom free for 72 hours before any kind of typical quarantine is lifted,” McNeil said. “And right now, we’re keeping those quarantine provisions in place longer because of what we continue to learn about COVID-19.”

Griffis maintains what they’re doing here is working as they managed to go several months without a positive case and now have only 10.

“We’re at this level because of the efforts we’ve put forward,” Griffis said.

Copyright 2020 KOSA. All rights reserved.

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