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As The Utah State Prison Deals With COVID-19 Outbreak, ACLU Says There’s More To Be Done

A photo of Mike Haddon speaking at a podium.
Kristin Murphy
Deseret News
Utah Department of Corrections executive director Mike Haddon talks about a COVID-19 outbreak in the Utah State Prison during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020.

There are currently 274 active COVID-19 cases at the Utah State Prison in Draper.

At a press conference Thursday, Executive Director Mike Haddon said most are part of an outbreak in one particular facility there, though there are also a few cases in the women’s units.

Among other measures, the corrections department has mandated masks for staff and incarcerated people. They’re also testing inmates as they enter the system, then again two weeks later, before releasing them into the general population.

Haddon said he and his COVID-19 task force meet at least twice a week.

“We have been assertive, active and intentional,” Haddon said. “Not a day or even an hour passes where we are not laser focused on this virus.”

In a video last week, Haddon said people who tested positive were being housed with those who have tested negative.

But Sara Wolovick, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have guidelines for correctional facilities that instruct the opposite.

“It's very dangerous,” Wolovick said. “The department has said that they are isolating people who are COVID[-19] positive. There isn't a lot of specificity about what that means. There needs to be transparency about that because an effective quarantine is not just shutting down a section and letting the virus infect everybody in there.”

On Tuesday, the ACLU of Utah along with friends and family of inmates at the state prison rallied outside the Department of Corrections, demanding more protections for those in custody.

At Thursday’s press conference, Haddon said he knows families are frustrated.

“Some have expressed a belief that we don’t care about those that we have responsibility for. I understand that frustration, and I don’t fault anyone for those feelings,” he said. “What I can say is that I do care, immensely, as does my leadership and staff, for those individuals currently incarcerated.”

Wolovick said to improve safety, state health officials and the public need to hear directly from those affected.

“It's absolutely critical that people who are incarcerated have a voice,” she said. “And that it is possible for them to get information out to government officials, to their family members, to attorneys. And the state needs to be listening to them.”

She said the ACLU wants people who test negative to be moved out of areas with coronavirus patients. The organization also wants the criteria for early prison release to be expanded.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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