Families concerned for incarcerated loved ones as DOC COVID-19 cases rise
KENNEWICK, Wash. – Tri-Cities resident David Detloff was shocked to find out where his son was in the Washington State Penitentiary.
“He told me he was in solitary confinement and I was like what?”
Noah Detloff is serving time for drug possession and theft charges. When David heard from his son in early November, he contacted administration with the penitentiary.
“They said it’s their way of intake to protect from the spread of COVID,” David said.
The father said he was worried sick about his son’s well-being.
“For the first ten days, he was not given any thing; nothing. There was no phone calls, nothing to read,” he said.
Noah isn’t the only one. Loretta Pedersen with the Washington Statewide Family Council, which advocate for the families who have loved ones behind bars, said many families have a similar story.
“I’m really worried about prisoner physical and mental health in these really isolated, quarantined settings. Families are scared about their loved ones getting COVID, but we’re also worried about other ways it’s affecting our loved ones’ lives,” she said.
During a virtual press conference on Monday, held by Columbia Legal Services, advocates discussed the ongoing issues throughout state prisons.
Recent numbers show Airway Heights has 792 confirmed cases, with hundreds more at the Washington Corrections Center, the State Penitentiary and Coyote Ridge Corrections Center.
“People are confined in crowded cells for nearly 24 hours per day. These facilities remain COVID hotbeds with less than humane treatment,” an advocate said during the meeting.
“The cell was filthy with no working overhead light,” a previous inmate added.
KAPP KVEW reached out to the Department of Corrections, who said:
“The Washington State Department of Corrections takes the health and safety of the incarcerated individuals in the state’s custody very seriously and the department is working hard to provide the best quality healthcare to all individuals in the state’s custody.
The Washington Department of Corrections has prioritized the advice of healthcare professionals and relies on science to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The Department has had protocols in place in response to COVID-19 since March 2020. Protocols in place include: Screening, Testing, Infection Control Guidelines, Outbreak Checklist and the agency has implemented staff serial testing for all staff working in correctional facilities, as of October 31, 2020. The Department is continually enhancing its efforts to fight COVID and have put in place quality improvement measures since the beginning of the pandemic.
When facilities begin seeing an increase of COVID-19 positive cases, they follow WA State DOC COVID-19 Screening, Testing, and Infection Control Guidelines protocols to safely house COVID-19 positive incarcerated individuals separately from healthy individuals. When necessary, the facilities establish alternative housing areas within their facility for this purpose. In some cases, access to phones, showers and common areas may be limited for a short period of time. The health and safety of the incarcerated is the department’s priority, and once these moves to alternative housing locations are completed, incarcerated individuals are able to resume regular use of common areas with their cohorts, regular telephone use and regular shower schedules.
Correctional facilities regularly provide communications to its incarcerated population and staff explaining that these unit moves, and any measures taken are not intended to be punitive, but are steps to mitigate and stop the spread of COVID-19 in the facility.
All Department of Corrections facilities follow the WA DOC Cleaning and Disinfecting Guidelines, sent to facilities on April 8, 2020. These guidelines are based on the Centers for Disease Control cleaning and disinfecting guidelines in the CDC’s Interim Guidance on Management of COVID-19 in Correctional and Detention Facilities. Based on this guidance, Department of Corrections porters were trained on proper safety and use of appropriate cleaning products. Each facility continues to adhere to these guidelines, ensuring that facilities remain appropriately sanitized per CDC guidelines.
For individuals on medical isolation status, the protocols have been continuously reviewed and updated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Operational plans are developed in medical isolation areas to allow time out of cell for a minimum of 30 minutes each day per person. Currently in the protocols after seven days of medical isolation, showers should occur per normal unit operating procedures. The first seven days of medical isolation are to remain as highly restricted movement to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19. Additionally, Corrections will continue to provide running water, basins and hygiene products for individuals to utilize for hygiene purposes whenever they desire.
Medical isolation is not a punitive measure nor is it the same as what members of the public refer to as “solitary confinement.” It is a measure taken to protect the health and safety of all incarcerated individuals and to mitigate and stop the spread of COVID-19. Incarcerated individuals are allowed to bring their personal belongings with them to medical isolation. The department is committed to ensuring that individuals remain connected to loved ones. While the department cannot share protected medical information with family members, incarcerated individuals in medical isolation areas are provided opportunities to call their loved ones. Further to this, individuals on medical isolation are seen by mental health providers per the WA State DOC COVID-19 Mental Health/Psychiatry Response Guideline. These steps, and others, are taken to ensure that those on medical isolation are both physically and mentally cared for by health services staff, and also continue to have connections with their loved ones. The Department fully supports and practices enhancing pro-social family connections for individuals in its custody.
Testing of the incarcerated population is conducted per the department’s COVID-19 Screening, Testing, and Infection Control Guideline. Incarcerated individuals are tested if they are identified during contact tracing, self-identify symptoms and/or if they are identified by staff as being symptomatic. The number of tests completed and number of tests pending results can also be found on the DOC COVID-19 Data page. Updates are posted at the end of each business day.
I would encourage you to review the department’s COVID-19 Significant Event Timeline to see all of the actions and steps taken by the department to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in its facilities.”
As for Noah, David said he will continue to advocate for his son and others.
Pedersen encourages families with incarcerated loved ones to get in touch with the group online for support.