The American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups are calling for “aggressive testing” of inmates and staff in Maryland’s prison in light of the steadily rising numbers of COVID-19 cases.
The groups call on Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to expand testing of inmates and workers to the same levels as those being tested in nursing homes, the ACLU said in a news release this week.
So far four inmates have died in the state system, including two this week. Three inmates, all males, were in their 60s and one was in his 50s.
“We cannot credibly claim to know the actual numbers of positive COVID-19 cases in detention when almost no one is being tested,” said Sonia Kumar, senior staff attorney of the ACLU of Maryland.
“The governor has been clear that robust testing is critical to mitigating the spread of the virus, especially for those in close quarters, and managing it over the long term. This is especially true for Marylanders in our places of detention," Kumar said.
Robert Green, Secretary for the Department of Correctional Services and Public Safety, testified before a Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Meeting on Thursday and discussed efforts to prevent spread of the virus.
Green says department employees have been getting temperature checks, and certain department staff are outfitted in protective gear.
“In terms of staff testing, we are not doing any work site testing,” Green said, noting that staff who are considered symptomatic are “reporting to their physicians.”
Green says they are planning to further “stand-up protocols” around testing and are working with the Maryland Department of Health on an expansion of a targeted testing model.
“We’re not doing those broad testing models at this point. We have been very successful in cohorting, very successful in shutting down our systems, our movements, to stop the spread of COVID-19," Green said.
The state’s prison system had 244 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, as of Monday. A total of 171 officers, 61 inmates and 12 “nonuniformed staff” have contracted the virus, officials said.
Two Maryland correctional facilities, Jessup Correctional Institution and the Roxbury Correctional Institution, have reported deaths. An inmate at the Dorsey Run Correctional Facility died on Friday.
The groups filed a Maryland Public Information Act request to obtain the number of tests conducted along with the department’s access to testing, including on-site testing. The groups are also calling for the number of people tested and confirmed cases by each facility.
Shawn Graves, a former inmate at the Baltimore City Correctional Center who was later transferred to the Maryland, Reception Diagnostic and Classification Center is on a 14-day quarantine, his fiance, Lakeisha Philson, told The Baltimore Sun.
Philson said Graves, 28, told her that the Baltimore correctional center lacked adequate supplies and that many inmates were not getting tested.
Graves was sentenced in 2019 for using a firearm in a violent crime.
Maryland is one of 14 states that aren’t regularly reporting rates of testing at prisons, and the state has not acted as aggressively as some others hard-hit by the virus to free inmates, prisoner rights advocates from the Justice Policy Institute indicated in April.