OKLAHOMA CITY – In response to the announcement Wednesday night from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections that they are experiencing an increase in positive COVID-19 cases, including a large outbreak at the Lexington Correctional Center, the ACLU of Oklahoma issued the following response:
The following is attributable to Nicole McAfee, Director of Policy and Advocacy:
“Months after urging Governor Stitt and Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Scott Crow to heed public health experts’ advice and immediately commit to full testing for COVID-19 in all correctional facilities, news broke of another large outbreak within the system.
At this point it should be no surprise to those in leadership that people involved in the criminal legal system face a heightened risk of infection. The daily updates on positive cases within our state, and in particular our criminal legal system, underscore the speed with which this disease can be transmitted.
As we’ve said before, no response to COVID-19 can be meaningful or effective without across-the-board testing. The immediate and universal testing in all state and local correctional and detention facilities, and reporting of those results, are necessary steps to understand the true scope of the problem. But at this point, testing is not enough. Prisons, jails, and detention centers must constantly assess that they have responsive plans in place, and adherence to the protocols within those plans to protect people incarcerated, staff, health care workers, and communities, especially in a state like Oklahoma with significant numbers of people in custody who are vulnerable to the virus.
While the large outbreak has been reported among the general population, it is worth noting that the Lexington facility has recently resumed receiving transfers from county jails. With receptions growing the prison population, and the pending transfer of thousands of people currently housed at the soon to be defunct Cimarron Correctional Facility, we are well past the time that leadership can pretend business as usual is sufficient.
We continue to urge the Pardon and Parole Board to expand dockets to include medically vulnerable populations. And we urge Governor Stitt, ODOC, and county jails to commit to full testing and strongly request every aspect of the system, from policing, prosecution and pretrial hearings, to sentencing, confinement, and release, come under intense scrutiny for how it responds to this national public health crisis.”