Monday, July 8, 2019

#VisitAPrison and Feel the HEAT

July 8, 2019

This will be a fairly short post, but a new health risk and humane treatment issue has arisen at Goose Creek Correctional Center (GCCC) due to the current heat wave. Please ask your legislators to #VisitAPrison and specifically request to tour the Administrative Segregation (AdSeg) unit as soon as possible!

Can't Take the HEAT

We've received word from inmates, family members and staff at the facility that the temperature inside the AdSeg unit at GCCC has been hovering at 95 degrees and higher for more than a week. Inmates and staff alike are suffering in the inhumane conditions! 

We all realize with the current heat wave in Alaska that many of our buildings are not built with air conditioning or air exchange systems capable of handling this type of weather. GCCC is no exception. 

If you discover that your home is heating to more than 95 degrees inside, you have options. You can go out to purchase an air conditioning unit (if you could find one) or fans to increase the air flow in your home. You could open the windows or go outside. You could choose to head to the lake, the pool, or a store you know has air conditioning. 

The corrections officers in AdSeg are having to work 12-hour shifts in the sweltering heat, right alongside the inmates. One described it as, "like working in hell." 

The inmates have it even worse. They are locked into an 8' by 10' cell, usually with another person, without any means of escaping or dealing with the conditions for 23-hours per day. They have the opportunity for one hour a day to go into a locked cage-like area for relief down to only what the temperature is outside. Family members are attending video visits with their loved ones in that area and their loved one is showing up completely drenched in sweat and visibly suffering. (They do not leave the housing unit for a video visit.) Keep in mind, some of these inmates are locked in there for punitive reasons, but some of them are also in there simply because they have been identified as needing protection and reclassified as "Protective Custody." Clayton himself was trapped in these conditions for weeks for that very reason. 

Invite Your Legislators to #VisitAPrison Today! 

It just so happens that today - July 8th - is the start of the #VisitAPrison challenge by FAMM, encouraging individuals to ask your legislators and policymakers to visit a prison and experience the conditions for themselves. Please take this opportunity to ask your own legislator to complete that challenge by visiting GCCC and asking to tour AdSeg and experience the heat themselves. These types of conditions are known in areas like Texas and other southern states to cause heat stroke and death in corrections officers and inmates alike. It is inhumane. Even if the temperatures cool in the coming days, DOC needs to have procedures in place to regulate the temperatures inside their facilities to humane ranges. This is how it is managed in those other states. Demand action and accountability! Inmates and corrections officers are human beings, and should be treated as such! 

Saturday, July 6, 2019

July 5 - Unsanitary Housing

Friday, July 5, 2019

There are lots of things we take for granted in the Western world and that we assume those maintaining institutions and public facilities do also. One of those things is basic sanitation. We take for granted that there will be toilet paper somewhere in the bathroom after we enter. We take for granted that someone will make sure there is soap available to wash our hands and prevent the spread of disease. We expect to be able to take a public shower at a pool or athletic facility without the risk of picking up serious communicable infections. Usually, we don’t even think about it.

Lately, at Goose Creek Correctional Center (GCCC) all of these assumptions have no longer been true. It’s a major health and safety hazard, not just to the inmates, but to every community across Alaska those inmates return to.

Rationing Sanitation

In the middle of May 2019, an announcement was posted for the housing units in GCCC in the form of two memos. The second memo appears to have a much earlier date, but they were posted together. (These memos are recreated, and do not reflect an exact copy.)

Memo #1 Content: 

To: Housing Staff & Inmate Population
From: Environmental Services
Through: Houser, Superintendent III


The institution has made changes to the way supplies from Environmental Services are issued to the mods [housing units]. Each mod’s core area supplies will be addressed in a separate memo. The mod officer will no longer need to place orders to Environmental Services for janitorial or cleaning supplies. Maximum levels of supplies will be set for each item. Environmental Services will check each mod’s supplies on Thursday mornings and resupply each mod Thursday afternoon to the maximum amount set. Each mod will be provided the maximum level of weekly supplies. Staff working in these mods and the inmate population will need to be conscientious about the amount of these supplies used and know that once they run out of an item, they will not receive a new supply until next Thursday. [emphasis added] All Environmental Services supplies will be secured in the supply closet within each mod. The officer will ensure that the items are being maintained and distributed according to this plan:
  • The mod officer will distribute toilet paper every Thursday night. Two rolls per inmate, per week.
  • One-gallon hand soap jugs will be used to fill the soap dispensers in the bathroom by a mod janitor once every three days. A one-gallon jug will fill all six dispensers. Inmates are not to use the soap for anything other than washing their hands.
  • To clean and sanitize a mod, inmates should use the purple A456 disinfectant cleaner (use to clean toilets, table tops, chairs, any surface) and the yellow peroxide cleaner (use to clean glass). The showers will still be cleaned once a week by Environmental Services with the foaming acid wash that kills major disease and bacteria. When mopping the floor in the mods, the neutral floor pellets will be used with only one pellet per full mop bucket. 
### End of Memo ###

Memo #2 Content:

Created on 11/22/2013
Please Post In All Mods

Maximum Levels for Mod Supply Storage
Yellow chemical gloves
4 (pairs)
Green scrub pads
10 (each)
Liquid hand soap
2 (each)
Neutral floor cleaner pellets
1 (each [container])
Large trash bags
4 (roll)
Inmate toilet paper
3 (case)
Medium disposable gloves
2 (box)
Large disposable gloves
3 (box)
Extra-large disposable gloves
3 (box)
Paper towel rolls
2 (roll)
Small trash bags
2 (roll)

### End of Memo ###

A Run on Toilet Paper

The result of these memos being posted was terribly predictable. If you tell a community that their bank is going to run out of money, you cause a phenomenon called “a run on the bank” where everyone panics and attempts to withdraw their money before it runs out. They don’t actually need that much money, but the fear of not having what they need causes people to hoard.

Added to the basic psychology of the problem, the announcement came at a time when the stomach flu was actively burning its way through the inmate population and staff. In posting that the toilet paper was at risk of running out, the prison ensured toilet paper’s new status as a valuable commodity. People began stealing, hoarding, and selling it almost immediately. Within a couple of days of the announcement, you could no longer find toilet paper or hand soap in the inmate bathrooms.

With limited options, inmates began using the showers to try and deal with the problem - which of course left the showers everyone has to use in an unsanitary condition that was worsened by cuts to other sanitation supplies. Formerly, inmate janitors were able to wash these shower floors daily with Comet cleanser. The Comet was no longer made available at the same time inmates were “wiping” their backsides after bowel movements with the showers. As stated, many of those inmates had the flu.

The facility issued two toilet paper rolls to each individual. That would seem to place the responsibility on each for their needs. However, with the flu in the mods, inmates with diarrhea or a head cold will obviously use tissue much more quickly. If not provided sufficient supply, they cannot take care of their basic sanitation needs, and needlessly increase the risk of infection to others. Even in normal circumstances, this policy has a serious flaw. It did nothing to protect inmates from having their supply stolen or “taxed” by other inmates. “Taxing” is a constant problem in all prisons where some inmates will force others to give them items of value with threats of violence or other punishment.

After weeks of this situation, we’ve heard that some inmates have been able to get a resupply of toilet paper before the next week starts by presenting the inner cardboard tube of their previous rolls to the corrections officer. However, we do not know if this reflects a change in policy, so we do not yet know if this has been instituted prison-wide. 

Skipping the Hand-Washing

Toilet paper is the most obvious and panic-inducing problem in the mix, but it’s far from being the only consideration. Hand soap is an equal health risk and an even more complicated issue to address. Two jugs of hand soap are not enough for 100-150 inmates in a housing unit to use for an entire week. Partially, this is due to the soap being used for other purposes as well.

For example, inmates who do not have enough income or help from family are restricted to indigent rations which include a singular, miniature bar of soap to use for their entire body. This soap is notorious for causing inmates to “shed their skin” or have other reactions, so some indigent inmates supplement it with the hand soap as well as using the hand soap for shampoo. Additionally, many inmates have personal dishes that have been purchased through the commissary such as a bowl, cup, or spoon. There has been no form of dish soap available on the commissary so most inmates have used the hand soap to clean them. Only in the last week, word went out that dish soap was now going to be available at GCCC through the inmate store - of course, only to those who can afford it.

As would be expected, a run on hand soap was also created by the announcement. Some inmates are able to bring bar soap to the bathrooms if they have enough money to purchase their own supply. Many, many others have simply been going more than one day a week with running their hands under tap water only, or with skipping hand-washing entirely. 

Sanitation Curbed on Multiple Fronts

Multiple other janitorial items have been cut as well, causing more complex problems. Previously, inmate janitors used Comet cleaner to clean the shower floors, bathroom floors, sinks and urinals every day. Obviously, this becomes more necessary when inmates are using the showers as an alternative to toilet paper.

Yet, the Comet cleaner is no longer provided at all. Janitors instead have turned to using the purple A456 disinfectant cleaner. This is the cleaner that inmates use to clean all hard surfaces including toilet seats, telephones, and handrails. Sadly, toilet seats are one of the most common places for inmates to pick up infections, including MRSA. The housing units are still being given the same amount of this cleaner as they were before, but with the new use in the daily cleaning of the bathroom common areas, there is no longer enough to make it through the week. (The disinfectant is not even good for this purpose, and leaves a purple residue behind.) Inmates are having to use telephones and toilet seats shared by those who have influenza and MRSA without anything available to disinfect them as they normally would.

Lastly, the housing units are now getting half the amount of packets used for creating cleansing water for use with the floor mops. Due to the reduced supply, janitors are saving and reusing old mop water when cleaning floors. 

Communicable Disease

Prisons are notorious for the communication of disease. Consider pathogens transmitted through bodily fluids and other infections spread by touch. In Clayton’s housing unit alone, we are aware of at least one inmate with Hepatitis B, one with HIV, and two with active outbreaks of MRSA infection. Since the new sanitation restrictions were implemented, one inmate was shocked and angered to learn that they’ve been diagnosed with Hepatitis A - a condition specifically communicated through exposure to contaminated water or food.

If any inmates with these types of conditions inside the facility are having to find alternatives to toilet paper, hand soap, and disinfectant cleanser it is a serious risk of communicating that infection to new people. The Center for Disease Control explains that MRSA alone can live on surfaces for “hours, days, or even weeks.”

In fact, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has a lot to say about sanitation measures that should be taken in prisons to prevent the spread of MRSA alone (Management of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) Infections, April 2012):
“Regular hand washing should be emphasized as the most important intervention for preventing a MRSA outbreak. Emphasis should also be placed on the importance of inmates with skin infections being promptly referred for a medical evaluation.” (Pg. 9) “Adequate hand washing supplies for inmates diagnosed with MRSA, and for the staff who are in contact with them, is critical. The availability of these supplies should be regularly assessed and remedied as necessary.” (Pg. 10) “Sanitation measures used for primary prevention of MRSA infections should be strictly enforced. Prioritize the cleaning of rooms that are used to house inmates who are placed on contact precautions—with focus on cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces (e.g., bedrails, bedside commodes, bathroom fixtures in patient room, and door knobs). All rooms of infected inmates should be decontaminated (“terminally cleaned”) prior to occupancy by another inmate.” (Pg. 11)
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), in partnership with the Center for Disease Control (CDC), also has recommendations due to the risk to corrections officers and other staff (NIOSH FACT SHEET, Managers: Protect Correctional Staff from MRSA, January 2013):
“Handwashing is the most important way to stop the spread of staph/ MRSA. (It also reduces the flu.) Encourage staff and inmates to wash their hands frequently. Place liquid soap dispensers by all communal sinks used by staff or inmates. It is important that hands are dried with a towel (either paper or individual-use cloth).” (Pg. 2)
“Encourage inmates to shower daily and wash their hands frequently. Tell inmates not to share soap or towels with other inmates. Inmates should put on clean clothes often, preferably daily. Inmates should shower after vigorous exercise or heavy sweating”. (Pg. 2)
“Facility Cleaning: Depending on conditions, MRSA can survive on some surfaces for hours, days, or months. That is why cleaning is so important. Keep surfaces that are frequently touched clean. Do not forget about shower handles, faucets, toilets, doorknobs, banisters, exercise equipment, and other surfaces that come into contact with bare skin. Use cleaners or detergents to remove dust and dirt. Sanitizers reduce but do not eliminate germs on surfaces. EPA-registered disinfectants kill germs.” (Pg. 2)
“Taking steps to prevent infections among inmates and staff should save money compared to treating them. Miami-Dade County Corrections implemented an infection control plan in 2007, reducing occupational infections and saving over $93,000 in workers’ compensation costs from 2007 through 2010.* (Pg. 1, *Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department Infectious Disease Group. Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation 2010 Annual Progress Report of the Infectious Disease Group)
“Releasing Infected Inmates: If inmates are released while infected, provide them with the remainder of their medications whenever possible and instructions to take all the pills. Also provide information on wound care and how to keep the infection from spreading to household contacts.” (Pg. 4)

One study suggests that prisons may be one of the primary sources of MRSA infections in U.S. communities (The Rise of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus in U.S. Correctional Populations, May 2011):
“Correctional populations may be an important source for CA-MRSA transmission because of the presence of numerous risk factors for MRSA infection and colonization. The United States has the second highest rate of incarceration in the world (1 per 136 adults in 2005) and this rate has grown 300% since 1980. Each year about 10 million people are processed in the U.S. correctional system and nearly 600,000 state prison inmates are released into the community annually. More than 2.5 million adults are incarcerated in U.S. correctional facilities (Aiello et al., 2006; U.S. Department of Justice, 2008). The correctional system may therefore be an important reservoir of MRSA colonization and infection in the community.”
To our knowledge, DOC does not actively assist inmates in being screened for disease before they are released back into their communities, and may ignore the outbreaks it does identify. If you are unfamiliar with DOC’s history of medical neglect, check out our earlier blog post and this ADN article on “a lawsuit filed by a former Alaska inmate who suffered paralysis from an untreated infection, despite days of repeated pleas to prison officials for help.

This Problem Was Created

In any environment, these conditions would be cause for major concern. In a prison setting, however, the affected human beings are forced to live in these conditions with little to no transparency to the outside world. Inmate families and friends are not allowed to report such inhumane treatment and public safety risks to the state Ombudsman because they are not being “personally impacted.” Yet, for a personally impacted inmate to report to the same organization, they must first complete a multi-level paperwork process within the prison that usually takes weeks if not months to complete. Thus, such blatant health and safety violations are rarely reported or corrected.

It is essential to keep in mind that before the release of the May memos, none of these basic sanitation issues existed. Inmates assumed - just like we do - that when the toilet paper, hand soap, and disinfectants ran out, someone would replace them. Toilet paper and hand soap were not valuable items, more readily available to inmates with money than those who were poor. Inmates had at least the comfort of knowing that their showers were being cleaned daily instead of weekly. Knowing the constant risk of spreading infections in prisons, they could proactively protect themselves by cleaning off the toilet or the telephone before each use.

This crisis is a direct result of the actions of DOC and GCCC. It is inexcusable and creates a risk not only for the inmates but for prison staff, prisoners’ families, and home communities as well. Sanitation is not a privilege. It is a necessity that protects us all.

Photo by hermaion from Pexels