OKLAHOMA CITY - The ACLU of Oklahoma is asking 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, work with communities so that jails across all 77 counties have adopted the ODOC guidelines for COVID response, and work to lower the populations of people in detention. Taking these swift actions will ensure that jail and prison COVID-19 outbreaks can be handled safely without unnecessary harm to people who are imprisoned, people who staff custodial facilities, or healthcare workers who serve those populations.
A little over a month ago, the ACLU and its partners released an epidemiological model demonstrating jails exacerbate the spread of COVID-19 and could claim the lives of approximately 100,000 more people nationwide than current projections stipulate if the populations are not dramatically and immediately addressed. The recent outbreak at the Comanche County Detention Center underscores the speed with which this disease can be transmitted. Therefore, no response to COVID-19 can be meaningful or effective without across-the-board testing.
Many people who carry the virus are asymptomatic and adequately identifying the breadth of the problem or effective solutions without a clear count puts the lives of staff, people who are incarcerated and those living in the surrounding communities at risk. 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.
Especially in a public health emergency, our government must make every effort to protect the rights of people experiencing illness or at risk of illness. This includes jails, prisons, and other detention facilities in the state facing barriers that often have large numbers of people who are especially vulnerable to the virus.
The actions of ODOC in coordination with the Comanche County Detention Center only act to underscore the need for a system-wide response in jails across the state. We strongly call on all sheriffs to implement the Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ COVID-19 response guidelines as stated in their Pandemic Planning Guide, as recommended by the Oklahoma State Department of Health.