ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Behind the wires, and behind the walls of Maryland prisons, the families of those inside say they're growing more fearful by the day.
"Everybody in there is scared, they’re all scared," Martina Hazleton, wife of a state inmate in Cumberland, said. "They feel like they’re sitting ducks."
Families of several Maryland prisoners teamed up with the ACLU and a coalition of nonprofit groups to file a court petition. They hope to compel Gov. Larry Hogan to begin releasing some non-violent inmates and ensure more cleaning supplies get into inmate’s hands.
Hazleton says her husband’s pre-existing medical conditions make him a target for COVID-19.
"My husband called me this morning and said, 'I don’t have my medication,'" Hazleton said. "So COVID has taken a front seat to everything. He suffers from hypertension. He’s a vulnerable part of this population."
Unlike D.C. and Virginia, Maryland does not publicly post the numbers of COVID-19 infections and quarantines at its correctional facilities. WUSA9 checked and the last public post addressing COVID-19 on the Department of Public Safety's website or twitter account was March 12, when prisons were closed to visitors.
"Prisons, or any sort of custodial situation, is like a petri dish," Patrick Moran, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union representing prison employees, said. "The number one thing we need to see right now is testing. We need to see testing across the agency, in every single prison, every single employee, every single inmate."
"I spent 24 years, 8 months and 15 days inside of a cell," former Maryland inmate Tyrone Walker said. "There is no social distancing. I was fearful living through MRSA. I was fearful living through situations like a shingle outbreak because you don’t know who’s infected."
While not directly addressing the ACLU-led lawsuit, Gov. Hogan's office listed recent measures state prisons are taking against COVID-19. They are listed below in the department's own words:
- Enhancing hygiene and sanitation practices consistent with the recommendations of Maryland Department of Health and the Centers of Disease Control.
- Suspending visitation and volunteer-led programs at all correctional facilities, excluding legal visits.
- Conducting temperature checks and completing health questionnaires for staff at every shift change.
- Modifying inmate movement and meal service to more closely align with social distancing protocols (implemented "Grab N Go" dining at most correctional facilities.
- Ensuring an adequate supply of cleaning, safety and other operational-critical supplies for all facilities.
- Waiving all inmate medical co-pays
- Ensuring those privatized medical doctors and nurses who provide on-site care to the inmate population at infirmaries in each region are prepared.
- Implementing video visitation so inmates can better connect with loved ones.
- Providing five free, 15-minute phone calls a week for all inmates as a means of keeping incarcerated men and women closely connected to their loved ones during this challenging time
- Extending recreation periods for inmates while suspending contact sports.
- Establishing a 24-hour family hotline so that loved ones of incarcerated men and women can receive COVID-19 related information.
- Secretary Green is communicating messages to his thousands of employees multiple times a week; employees are also receiving operational updates daily.
- Requiring correctional staff to wear protective gear, to include face masks, gloves, and face shields.
- Rolling out face masks to the inmate population.
"People were not sentenced to death," Julie Magers, family member of a current inmate, said. "They were not sentenced to pain and suffering, but that’s exactly what’s happening here. So on behalf of our incarcerated population, our families, we are expecting the governor and state to take serious and immediate action."