El Paso County Settles Lawsuit With ACLU And Defense Attorneys Over Jail COVID Outbreak

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The El Paso County Jail in Colorado Springs, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021.

El Paso County has agreed to continue supplying masks to inmates in the county jail, taking temperatures twice a day and requiring medical staffers to screen inmates for pre-existing conditions through the fall of 2021, according to an agreement reached with advocacy lawyers this month.

The county was sued last year by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and a handful of private attorneys for how law enforcement handled COVID-19 inside the county jail and their treatment of between 1,200 and 1,400 inmates.

The county agreed to a number of steps right away, under a preliminary injunction. Those included supplying face coverings for everyone and housing inmates with the virus separately from non-infected people. The final settlement extends those requirements through September.

The El Paso County jail was the site of the largest jail outbreak of the virus in the state. In a single week last year, more than 800 inmates tested positive.

This came amid $16 million in supposed COVID-19 improvements inside the jail and other sheriff’s office facilities, paid for by federal dollars, that officials argue made the building safer for both employees and inmates during the pandemic.

As part of the settlement, the county will also pay $65,000 to the ACLU and the other attorneys for legal fees. Wellpath, the contractor that handles health care inside the county’s jail, will pay $30,000.

County officials also said on Wednesday they have been offering the COVID-19 vaccine to any inmate who wants it since April.

“Jails and prisons have been one of the dangerous places for people during this pandemic,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado. “This jail had the largest outbreak in the state … and I think fortunately once the lawsuit was filed, the county attorneys worked with us to agree on the practices that got the outbreak under control.”

The ACLU filed a similar lawsuit against the Weld County sheriff last year, which also resulted in a settlement and agreed-upon virus protection measures.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated with information about the vaccine program at the El Paso Jail.