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Washington Inmates File Lawsuit Against DOC Amidst Coronavirus Panic

— March 25, 2020

Inmates say the state Department of Corrections hasn’t taken any precautions to ward off an outbreak.

Inmates in Washington have sued the state Department of Corrections, saying the agency hasn’t done enough to prevent coronavirus from spreading behind bars.

“Due to the conditions under which inmates are held at prisons in Washington State, it is anticipated that an outbreak of COVID-19 will soon be seen, or may currently be underway, at one or more Washington State prisons,” the lawsuit says. “Cleaning at jails statewide has been woefully inadequate to kill virions that may be left on surfaces.”

The lawsuit, says The News Tribune, was filed Thursday in Pierce County Superior Court; it was lodged on behalf of five men, all of whom are currently detained in Washington Department of Corrections facilities.

The complaint, adds the Tribune, alleges that the Department of Corrections should be obliged to inform the courts what precautions it’s taken to ensure its facilities aren’t susceptible to a novel coronavirus outbreak.

The department, though, claims to have taken some action. However, most of the agency’s actions appear more related to raising coronavirus awareness than ensuring detainees and corrections staff don’t put one another at risk of infection.

Barbed wire/prson. Image via Pixabay/user:jodylehigh. Public domain.

“All DOC locations instituted an intensive cleaning protocol focused on sanitizing high touch surfaces, increased personal hygiene, and posting of DOH COVID-19 and hygiene related materials in public areas visible to the incarcerated population,” the agency’s website says. “Hand sanitizer was authorized in prison facilities for use by employees and contract staff, and are placed in areas where soap and water are not readily available.”

While nobody in WDOC custody has yet to test positive for the disease, prisoners say it’s only a matter of time before COVID-19 begins spreading like wildfire.

“There is no evidence whatsoever that the Defendants have taken any action to clean jails, separate prisoners, or otherwise ensure that prisoners aren’t exposed to the virus,” the suit states. “Some prison guards have no bleach with which to clean surfaces, and instead are instructed to do so with soap and water.”

The lawsuit also wants the Department of Corrections to explain why non-violent offenders—especially elderly inmates—cannot be released onto electronically-monitored house arrest.

“In the event the crisis worsens, prison staff has expressed a concern that the system will be overwhelmed and there will not be enough staff to adequately staff all of the prisons in the state,” the lawsuit says.

One way or another, the suit says that conditions in Washington prisons have all but ensured COVID-19 will infect a disproportionate number of prisoners.

“A large-scale outbreak in one or more prisons in the State of Washington would completely break the state’s already fragile health care systems,” it says. “Prisoners and civilians alike would die due to lack of equipment and staff […] It is a near certainty that there will be a large-scale prison outbreak of COVID-19 if prison conditions are not immediately reformed.”


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