ACLU, DOC Sign Agreement For How To Treat Prisoners During The Pandemic

Sterling Coronavirus COVID-19 Vigil
Sam Brasch/CPR News
Family members of inmates at the Sterling Correctional Facility hold a candlelight vigil just outside the prison walls June 6, 2020.

Colorado’s Department of Corrections and the American Civil Liberties Union announced Friday they’d reached an agreement on actions the state needs to take to try to prevent medically vulnerable inmates from contracting COVID-19.

The consent decree was reached after the ACLU sued the DOC earlier this year on behalf of several prisoners who are at risk of getting severely sick or dying from COVID-19. 

The decree requires the state to furnish every prisoner with two free masks and two bars of soap a week. It requires the Department of Corrections to identify vulnerable inmates and provide them with safe housing. And it requires the state to be transparent about testing and positive cases across the system. It will also lead to the hiring of an outside expert to advise the department on COVID-related policies and procedures.

“We view this as a win for the people of Colorado,” DOC Director Dean Williams said in a statement announcing the settlement. He said the department has already implemented many provisions of the agreement in recent months.

There are currently more than 700 prisoners with COVID-19 in state prisons, according to the Department of Corrections’ dashboard.

This isn’t the only lawsuit the ACLU has filed against the state about its handling of coronavirus in prisons. The group said it will continue to pursue legal action against Gov. Jared Polis for not releasing some prisoners early to help limit spread in the prisons.

In its own press release, the ACLU’s legal director said that the consent decree, while important, won’t be enough to keep prisoners safe from the virus unless prison populations are reduced.