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Sign the Papers! Alabama Prisoners Get Masks for COVID-19 but With Strings Attached

As the threat of COVID-19 contagion has become tangible to prison populations across the United States, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has implemented risk management and mitigation protocols throughout its prison system.

Among these is the cessation of accepting new prisoners from county jails and transfers except in cases of medical necessity and emergency. During the second half of April, masks were made available to prisoners — but with dubious conditions.

To obtain a mask, the prisoner must sign a two-page form. Ominously printed at the top of the first page is the warning, “Use this mask at your own risk. The ability of this mask to protect its user and the effects of its use on health are unknown. The mask is not guaranteed to be effective against the spread of any illnesses or viruses, including COVID-19 virus.”

The second page of the form provides “mandatory” instructions for mask maintenance. This involves daily cleaning in warm water with detergent or alternatively allowing the prison’s laundry to clean it.

Prisoners report that in most dormitory housing there are not enough sinks to meet everyone’s usual needs, much less adding daily mask maintenance cleaning to the regimen. Also, ADOC is not issuing detergents or sanitizing agents. Furthermore, not all prison units are equipped with their own laundry department.

No negative consequences for prisoners refusing to accept masks or signing the forms have been reported. An ADOC spokesperson declined to comment on media queries regarding the lack of detergents, sanitizers and sealable plastic bags to store masks when they are not in use.