Inmates in Texas and Washington, D.C., have sued for better conditions, claiming they’ve been left to fend for themselves amidst the pandemic.
Inmates across the country say they’re running out of soap and cleaning supplies as coronavirus continues to sweep the nation.
According to CNN, one lawsuit was recently filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of inmates in Washington, D.C. They say personal hygiene products are in high demand and difficult to come by. Soap is running low, hand sanitizer is banned among the general population, and inmates have resorted to cleaning their hands with uniform scraps.
CNN notes that the D.C. suit was lodged on the same day as another.
That complaint, says CNN, describes similar conditions in Wallace Pack Unit, a state-run prison in Texas. Wallace Pack—as LegalReader’s reported—has long had a rough reputation. Last summer, it was sued for a lack of climate control in its housing units, with temperatures regularly running above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Now, Wallace Pack is purportedly running out of cleaning supplies—leaving elderly and health-compromised prisoners in a potentially deadly situation. While the lawsuit concedes that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has taken some measures to curtail the spread of novel coronavirus, court filings call existing policies “woefully inadequate.”
“TDCJ’s failures don’t just affect the inmates. Prison health is community health,” the lawsuit states. “An outbreak at the Pack Unit could easily spread to the surrounding communities, and vice versa. Time is running out for proper protections to be put into place.”
The lawsuit further notes that Wallace Pack has special licensing to hold and care for elderly prisoners—and it’s the elderly, more than any other group, who run the highest risk of death from coronavirus.
While the Texas complaint has only two elderly defendants, the suit notes that the Wallace Pack Unit holds over 1,000 inmates whose age, health complications, or some combination thereof put them at exceptional risk for infection and complication. For instance, in September 2014, Wallace Pack housed about 700 men with high blood pressure, plus 200 with diabetes.
Greg Lipper, a D.C.-based attorney, told CNN that both lawsuits underscore not only the lack of sanitary supplies but the vulnerability of inmates to a pandemic.
“Even the best run, most humane, most medically up to date jail is a giant petri dish. You have lots and lots of people living in close quarters. Social distancing is virtually impossible,” Lipper said. “Most jails, especially city jails, have a lot of people going in and out. DC is no different.”
Right now, D.C.’s jails have six confirmed coronavirus cases. Although district authorities have curbed arrests and detention for low-risk offenders, the city has yet to release inmates who aren’t a risk to the wider community.