A fifth person died of COVID-19 while under the care of the state’s prison system this week, days before prison officials entered into a legal agreement with the ACLU of Colorado promising to strengthen coronavirus protections.
A 71-year-old man incarcerated at the Sterling Correctional Facility died Tuesday in a Greeley hospital after contracting COVID-19. He was the fifth person incarcerated in Colorado’s prisons to die of the virus and the fourth person from the Sterling prison.
The man’s death comes as the Colorado Department of Corrections enters into an agreement with the ACLU of Colorado setting requirements for the prison system’s COVID-19 precautions. The civil rights organization and a group of outside attorneys sued the department in May on behalf of medically vulnerable prisoners and on Friday the two parties announced the agreement, which still must be accepted by a judge.
“Today’s proposed consent decree provides meaningful protections for people in prison, but those protections are not sufficient to ensure the social distancing necessary to prevent the exponential spread of COVID-19 in our overcrowded prisons,” ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein said in a news release. “What’s necessary is a significant reduction of the prison population, and the power to carry out that population reduction rests solely with the governor.”
Thirteen state prison facilities are currently listed as outbreak sites by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
In the past 14 days, 727 people incarcerated in the state’s prisons have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Department of Corrections data. Most of those cases are clustered at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility, about an hour east of Pueblo, and the Fremont Correctional Facility just east of Cañon City.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 2,387 people incarcerated in the state’s prisons have contracted the virus.
Through the consent decree, the some of the Department of Corrections’ promises include:
- Identify medically vulnerable prisoners and attempt to house them safely
- Waive co-pay costs for COVID-19 treatment for inmates
- Consult with an independent expert on policies and protocols for medically vulnerable people
- Provide two free bars of soap and two free masks once a week to each inmate
If a judge accept the consent decree, he or she will have the power to enforce the agreement through court orders. Some of the policies listed in the agreement were already practiced at the Department of Corrections, according to the consent decree.
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