AZ Prison Employees Banned From Wearing Masks Because They Might Scare Inmates
Phoenix, AZ – An Arizona Department of Corrections lieutenant has filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that the department has refused to allow employees to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) during the novel coronavirus outbreak because doing so might scare the inmates.
Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry (ADCRR) Lieutenant Mark Hasz sent the whistleblower letter to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) Dr. Cara Christ on March 26.
Lt. Hasz told Ducey and Christ that the purpose of the letter was to report concerning “mismanagement and/or abuse of authority,” regarding the department’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“ADCRR and Director [David] Shinn are mishandling the [coronavirus] response and putting the health and lives of corrections officers, inmates and the public in unnecessary danger,” the lieutenant wrote.
Lt. Hasz, who is assigned to the Arizona State Prison Complex (ASPC) Lewis, pointed out that corrections employees are unable to practice social distancing due to the nature of their jobs.
“On a daily basis several thousand correctional officers come into close personal contact with approximately 40,000 inmates and then return to their homes,” he wrote. “Because of the nature of prisons (no social distancing whatsoever!), once the [coronavirus] enters the prison system, it will spread quickly, infecting inmates and staff throughout the State.”
“Any staff infected at work in the prison will bring the virus back to their families and communities,” Lt. Hasz added.
The lieutenant said that ADCRR staff members “are absolutely aware” of the dangerousness of the novel coronavirus, and that they have been begging the department to issue PPE to them from the stockpile of N95 masks they have in storage.
When those requests were denied, corrections staff “decided to take their personal safety into their own hands” by purchasing personal masks and bringing them to wear at work.
But those attempts were quickly brought to a halt by ADCRR supervisors, who told the employees that they were not allowed to wear their own PPE and that no such items would be issued to them by the department.
“This direction seemed so shortsighted and dangerous that I could not believe that it came from Director Shinn,” Lt. Hasz wrote. “But it did.”
According to the lieutenant, Director Shinn recently discussed the pandemic during a “town hall meeting” at the Lewis Prison.
After the director completed his presentation, Lt. Hasz asked him whether or not corrections officers would be permitted to wear their own PPE at work.
“I was shocked at the response,” the lieutenant wrote. “Director Shinn confirmed that he had given the order forbidding staff from bringing in [and] wearing their own PPE.”
“Director Shinn had given the order because he believed that masked officers would scare the inmates,” he continued. “This reasoning is ridiculous and Director Shinn’s decision is putting the health of the staff, inmates and the general public at increased risk.”
The Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association (ACPOA) made Lt. Hasz’s letter public on Tuesday, KTAR reported.
The ACPOA also called on Christ to “intercede from a health prospective,” according to the news outlet.
The ADCRR and the ADHS did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday, the Arizona Republic reported.
In a "COVID-19 management strategy update" released on Wednesday, the ADCRR noted that it doesn’t want to take any action that “unnecessarily” uses up the department’s PPE, according to the Arizona Republic.
Ducey’s spokesperson, Patrick Ptak, refused to comment on Lt. Hasz’s whistleblower complaint on Wednesday, and said the letter is currently under review.
"The health and safety of all our citizens is our top focus right now," Ptak told the Arizona Republic in an emailed statement. "We will continue to work closely with the Department of Health Services to ensure guidance from public health officials is being implemented across our administration."