WA Office of Corrections Ombuds, COVID-19 Monitoring Visit to MCC Report, 2020
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STATE OF WASHINGTON OFFICE OF THE CORRECTIONS OMBUDS 2700 Evergreen Parkway NW Olympia, Washington 98505 (360) 664-4749 April 17, 2020 Steve Sinclair, Secretary Department of Corrections (DOC) Office of the Corrections Ombuds (OCO) Monitoring Report Enclosed is the report of the monitoring visit that the Office of the Corrections Ombuds (OCO) conducted to the Monroe Correctional Complex on April 10, 2020. OCO staff were joined on the visit by State Representative Roger Goodman and Governor Inslee’s Criminal Justice Policy Advisor, Sonja Hallum. I appreciate that since Friday’s visit, DOC has made several positive decisions to both release individuals and to improve conditions of confinement for persons in isolation. Regarding the latter, OCO believes even more should be done to improve conditions in isolation units around the state and we would appreciate additional attention to the matter. Thank you for the opportunity to work collaboratively with DOC to identify issues in need of improvement. Any member of the public who wishes to report a concern to OCO is welcome to contact the office at (360) 664-4749 or at the address above. All concerns are logged into the OCO database and used as part of its overall reporting to policymakers and analysis of issues within DOC. Sincerely, Joanna Carns Director cc: Governor Inslee OCO Monitoring Visit to Monroe Correctional Complex Background The Office of the Corrections Ombuds (OCO) received numerous concerns regarding the Department of Corrections’ response to COVID-19, including lack of adequate prevention measures and poor conditions of confinement for those on quarantine or isolation status. These concerns particularly centered around Monroe Correctional Complex (MCC), which is the site of 12 positive COVID-19 testing results of both staff and incarcerated individuals, as of April 10, 2020. Further, on the evening of April 8, 2020, over a hundred individuals at MCC in the Minimum Security Unit (MSU) reportedly engaged in a mass disturbance. For the above reasons, on April 10, 2020, OCO Director Joanna Carns, accompanied by Washington State Representative Roger Goodman, Criminal Justice Policy Advisor to Governor Inslee Sonja Hallum, and OCO Early Resolution Ombuds & Racial Equity staff LaQuesha Turner, conducted a monitoring visit to MCC. The purpose of the visit was threefold: (1) conduct a welfare check on any individuals placed in a disciplinary unit due to involvement in the disturbance; (2) inspect the units where it occurred and speak with incarcerated individuals in those units; and (3) observe quarantine and isolation conditions of confinement. Executive Summary/Key Findings The facility is unable to effectively impose social distancing due to facility structure and population size. Both staff and incarcerated individuals asked for a release of individuals to create greater space and smaller cohorts of individuals, which would also reduce stress on staff. o Staff may make isolated attempts to impose social distancing in chow halls or other designated areas, but incarcerated individuals physically cannot social distance in the hallways of housing units, around phones, in lines, and other areas. Both incarcerated and staff were observed in congregate groups. o Further, the large populations housed together results in larger quarantine populations when a single individual becomes symptomatic, ultimately resulting in a large amount of stress in the population, potentially leading to disturbances. Staff are under tremendous stress. Multiple negative interactions were viewed between the staff and the incarcerated, and between staff themselves. DOC administrators shared that staff shortages due to COVID-positive or quarantined staff have resulted in several dozen staff working overtime and serving in relief roles, causing confusion and disruption in the units. 2 Incarcerated individuals reported that stress, fear, and frustration with both their situation and with staff resulted in the disturbance. Individuals in disciplinary isolation for involvement in the disturbance appeared to not have suffered mistreatment or injuries and were receiving food. All units appeared clean. However, incarcerated individuals reported a delay in fresh laundry exchange and were observed not using preferred chemicals for cleaning. Symptomatic individuals in isolation did not report medical distress and reported that they were receiving medical care. However, conditions in isolation are grim, with individuals reporting only receiving showers once a week, complete lack of access to communication with loved ones or legal counsel, lack of any personal property including televisions or Jplayers, lack of recreation, and poor cell conditions. Statutory Authority Per RCW 43.06C.050, OCO has “reasonable access” to all state correctional facilities in order to monitor compliance with respect to the rights and safety of incarcerated individuals. Observations Disciplinary Unit 1 According to the DOC press release following the incident, over a hundred incarcerated persons were involved in a disturbance at the MSU, reportedly due to recent positive tests for COVID-19.1 Later reports indicated that slightly more than 50 people were “actively” involved. DOC moved 18 people to the disciplinary unit at SOU. The monitor group walked the unit to speak at cellfront with the individuals. All individuals reported that they had not suffered any mistreatment and were receiving food. They had not yet received showers or out of cell time, but none appeared upset by that and all appeared to expect that these basic privileges would be afforded. No one reported any medical concerns, or any concerns in general other than the fact that almost all of them reported that they were not involved in the incident and should not be in the IMU, discussed below. The monitor group also observed the use of staff PPE while opening cuffports and passing items to and from the incarcerated population. [Photos D and E in the Appendix] https://www.doc.wa.gov/news/2020/04082020p.htm 3 Almost all of the individuals appeared to disclaim any participation or liability in the incident.2 As there are no cameras in the MSU at MCC, objective evidence is difficult to obtain. DOC administrative staff said that they were relying on statements by both staff and other incarcerated individuals to identify the 18 individuals. Subsequent to the monitoring visit, staff relayed that likely only ten individuals would receive infractions and that the evidence included self-admissions. Minimum Security Unit (MSU) The monitor group then toured both D unit and B unit of the MSU. D unit is where the disturbance happened. Staff reported that mattresses and other items had been used to barricade doors and entryways, and that there was general destruction of the unit. [See Photos G and H in the Appendix.] The environment in the units could be described as tense. The monitoring group observed several negative interactions between staff and the incarcerated. At one point, a member of the monitoring group intervened in a discussion because she feared a physical confrontation was about to erupt. Incarcerated individuals relayed that this negative interaction was a primary cause of the disturbance, that there was an “us versus them” attitude rather than both groups working together through the conflict. They reported that incarcerated individuals were frustrated that staff would only enforce social distancing at times “for show” such as at the chow hall, which disrupted programming and recreation, but then they had to crowd together in the housing units anyway. They further reported that staff themselves did not social distance and were concerned they were the ones bringing in the disease. Incarcerated individuals relayed that staff sent mixed messages of both promoting social distancing as the best way to stay safe from contracting coronavirus and at the same time attempted to “bribe” them into moving into congregate housing by giving them McDonalds, which they said was disingenuous. DOC staff relayed that the food was not a bribe but a positive gesture in a difficult time. Social distancing was not observed by either staff or incarcerated individuals and it was not possible in the MSU space. To use the phones, individuals had to sit close together. The hallways are narrow and individuals had to closely pass each other. Individuals also crowded together at the doorways. [See Photos in the Appendix.] The incarcerated individuals relayed that they had not had linen/laundry exchange in two weeks, which included sheets, towels, and even their underwear that they had to wear 2 From their reports, there was a fire alarm earlier in the day, causing the doors to open via an emergency system. The individuals exited to the yard. A sergeant came out and told them to return to their cells, which they reportedly complied with. They saw officers “lined up with bean bag guns.” Reports vary as to whether they were all directed back outside or whether staff asked for any individuals not involved in the incident to return to the yard; after they returned to the yard, they were directed to sit down on the ground, their hands were ziptied, and escorted to the IMU. 4 several days. They shared that there were fresh linens available behind a locked area that they were not allowed by staff to access. Staff stated the incarcerated had been due for a linen exchange on Wednesday, which had been disrupted by the disturbance, and that it would be addressed. The general housing unit area appeared clean and the unit smelled of bleach. However, although the smell of bleach may be comforting to persons for whom the smell is synonymous with cleanliness, it is not one of the preferred EPA-approved disinfectants recommended for use and may be an irritant to those with breathing conditions. Containers of appropriate disinfectants were sitting out, but it was unclear where or how they were being used and an incarcerated individual was observed using a bleach solution to wipe down the phone. When asked why, he responded that it was “quicker” since the recommended disinfectants have to sit for a period of time on the surface in order to be effective. It was apparent that both the incarcerated and staff had the option to wear masks. Some but not all staff and incarcerated individuals wore masks or other PPE. During the monitoring visit, it was announced that a directive had gone out from Secretary Sinclair that would require staff to wear masks and provide for masks to be given out to all incarcerated. Isolation Unit for Symptomatic Individuals (E Unit) The monitoring group consisting of the OCO Director and staff accompanied by the DOC Chief Medical Officer and infectious disease expert proceeded to the isolation unit for those with symptoms or those who had tested positive for COVID-19. A primary issue evident on the unit was once again staff stress. The monitoring team observed negative staff interactions with the incarcerated, with each other, and with the monitoring team. It is quite difficult to imagine the mental and emotional strain of the custody staff coming in each day to work with a population sick with a terrifying pandemic disease and who are kept in stark conditions for which they have legitimate complaints, but the staff do not have the power to change. Of the two tiers, the OCO Director went on the one with the diagnosed positive cases and collected letters from both. The individuals on the tier appeared to be in good health; all were asked about their medical care and none had any concerns in that regard, which is very good. However, they did have a number of concerns about conditions of confinement, as outlined below. E unit was a previously soft-closed segregation unit that was reopened for this specific purpose. In speaking with an incarcerated worker on the unit who had been held on the unit in isolation and who volunteered to continue working on the unit once he was released, the unit was reportedly freezing cold with cold, brown, undrinkable water. The 5 room temperature had since improved, as felt by the monitoring team, but the cold, brown water reportedly was still an issue. One individual reported that when he attempts to use the sink, it floods the entire cell. He showed that he was using his linens on the floor around the toilet to soak up the water. Other individuals in neighboring cells reported similar issues. The primary concern was the lack of access to telephones to speak with their loved ones, both for their own emotional wellbeing and for their families, who were worried and without any information. They reported that they had paper and pencils, but as they were completely without personal property, they did not have their address books to know where to send the letters. One individual stated that he did not have his reading glasses to be able to write. They also were worried about sending letters to their loved ones, concerned that it might be infectious, indicating they also did not have access to basic information about the disease and contamination. The second large concern was the lack of access to showers. Staff relayed that the incarcerated were allowed showers three times a week, but multiple incarcerated individuals stated that they were only allowed one shower every seven days and in between were offered what was colloquially known as a “birdbath.” The birdbath is a basin with hot water and a rag. [Photo R in Appendix.] o Note: The decision to limit showers was made by DOC’s Chief Medical Officer and infectious disease expert to reduce the spread of the disease. The third primary concern was the lack of access to personal property, including anything with which to occupy their minds. They did not have personal televisions or Jplayers, and it did not appear that they had much if any reading material. They had no access to news or information. They felt frustration at being kept in stark conditions. One individual’s chief request was simply coffee, which he had brought with him to E unit and then was not allowed to have. Individuals raised concerns about the lack of recreation, stating that they only were able to leave their cells once a week to get an X-ray. They stated that “guys in IMU are treated better,” which is an accurate statement when it comes to the level of privileges. o Note: The decision to limit recreation was also made by DOC’s Chief Medical Officer and infectious disease expert, also to reduce the spread of the virus. Individuals on the other tier who passed letters for OCO reported that they were placed in isolation on little to no basis. One wrote, “I was put in here on 3-22-20 with a small rash on my leg and a cough. I was told 14 days in admittance. Then I was told 14 days after no more symptoms. Then I was told I would be released on April 8th, and on April 9th I was told I coughed on March 30th so my 14 days started all over again on April 12th I would 6 be here three weeks. I’m not sick and I want out of isolation…I can’t call my family, no shower in 1 week now. I haven’t been outside since March 22nd. This whole operation over here is horrible. I want out! Please get me out of here.” Another wrote, “I never said I had symptoms of sickness. I was ripped up and out of bed at midnight on April 5, 2020. I tested negative for COVID for which they said I had symptoms for and was recently moved from the 5 COVID-infected people. But now I am still around the sickness. This is a punishment…I want to go back. I never had any symptoms.” [Photos N and P in Appendix.] Based on the concerns relayed, it was unclear how decisions were made regarding privileges, what rationale existed to strictly limit privileges and property, and who was responsible for ensuring basic quality of life. For example, the individual’s request for coffee clearly has neither a security nor a public health implication and yet it was denied. Facility administrative staff relayed that personal property wasn’t allowed in isolation because they had been told they would have to destroy it after the person left; medical staff relayed there was no medical need to do that. DOC administrative staff at Headquarters had clearly engaged in a discussion about the bare minimum of privileges to be afforded, but it was unclear whether staff had also held a discussion about the maximum privileges that could be given while also maintaining public health standards, or had made attempts to ask the individuals in isolation what would make their situation more tolerable while they were afflicted with a potentially deadly disease through no fault of their own. o Officers on the unit were asked who made decisions about unit operations and the answer given was the “Emergency Operations Center.” o Staff also indicated that barriers existed to effective, efficient decision-making, with all decisions having to be approved by the US Center for Disease Control and the WA Department of Health. In a quickly evolving situation like a pandemic, greater speed may be necessary. 7 DOC Response 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Appendix Photo A Caption: Entry officer with screening questions and touchless temperature gun. Photo B Caption: From left, Superintendent Mike Obenland, Superintendent Jack Warner, Criminal Justice Policy Advisor to Governor Inslee Sonja Hallum, and State Representative Roger Goodman, standing in IMU 19 Photo C Caption: OCO Early Resolution Ombuds & Racial Equity staff LaQuesha Turner Photo D Caption: Officer wearing PPE distributing toilet paper to incarcerated individuals in IMU 20 Photo E Caption: Officer in PPE taking trash from incarcerated individuals in IMU Photo F Caption: Cell in IMU for individual charged with involvement in disturbance 21 Photo G Caption: Photo of destruction of MSU unit during disturbance Photo H Caption: Photo of destruction of MSU during the disturbance. 22 Photo I Caption: Housing unit in MSU Photo J Caption: Incarcerated individuals crowded at doorway in MSU 23 Photo K Caption: Individuals at phones in MSU Photo L Caption: Representative Goodman talking to an incarcerated individual in MSU hallway 24 Photo M Caption: E Unit tier of symptomatic but non-COVID-positive individuals Photo N Caption: Letter with concerns from non-positive tier of isolation 25 Photo O Caption: Letter with concerns from non-positive tier in isolation Photo P Caption: Letter with concerns from the non-positive isolation tier 26 Photo Q Caption: Outdoor recreation area on E unit, used as staging area Photo R Caption: Basin used as a “birdbath” for self-bathing in E unit 27 Photo S Caption: OCO Director on E unit tier with COVID-positive individuals Photo T Caption: Letter with concerns from COVID-positive individual on isolation unit 28 Photo U Caption: Letter with concerns from COVID-positive individual on isolation unit Photo V Caption: Letter with concerns from COVID-positive individual on isolation unit 29 Photo W Caption: Letter with concerns from COVID-positive individual 30