These are my notes from the briefing call with Laura Brooks, Director of Health and Rehabilitative Services, at the Department of Corrections which took place on March 31st. After the briefing I was permitted to ask three questions in the interest of time, and we were encouraged to email follow-up questions afterwards.
We are extremely appreciative of Laura Brooks' time and efforts in providing us with up-to-date information.
Updated information will be provided by the Department of Corrections as things progress.
· As of 3/31/2020, there are no confirmed cases of Covid-19 within the Alaska prison system. 7 tests have been performed, 3 results were negative, 4 are still pending.
· A large portion of Alaska’s incarcerated population is made up of aging individuals with underlying health conditions. They are very aware of the risks Covid-19 poses to this portion of the population in particular and they are taking this threat very seriously.
· On 2/2 the DOC began screening incoming residents for Covid-19.
· 2/3 the infectious diseases response team began meeting weekly in preparation.
· 3/4 the DOC completed their response plan.
· 3/23 the CDC produced their management guide. The DOC compared these guidelines to their response plan and found they were already meeting CDC guidelines, and in fact exceeded those recommendations.
· There are different phases to the response plan. As the threat level rises, the DOC will proceed to the next phase of plan implementation. They are now meeting on a daily basis to gather information and decide when to move into the next phase.
· Visitation has been cancelled statewide. All non-essential contract services have been terminated until Covid-19 threat has been lifted. No non-essential persons will be admitted to the facilities. Chaplains however are considered essential staff and are still permitted to the facilities. They undergo the same screening as all staff at this time.
· Currently they are screening all essential staff and individuals that is required to be on the premises on a daily basis. This includes verbal interview/temperature check.
· They have implemented isolation measures for those that present symptoms.
· They have different levels of quarantine dependent upon symptoms.
· They have implemented movement restrictions at the various facilities.
· They have meal delivery and laundry service plans ready to be implemented.
· All group activities have been ended until threat of Covid-19 has been lifted i.e. programs, classes, religious gatherings, etc.
· They have release procedures should someone become ill [need clarification of this point].
· DOC is in communication with Securus to look at ways to increase the amount of free phone calls permitted at this time. DOC states we currently have two free calls per week [issue with Securus is being investigated as most are only receiving one free call per week]. *Note* Family members MUST have a Securus account set up in order to receive free calls. No account/No Calls.
· Hand sanitizing stations are set up at each facility.
· Soap will be provided to all residents as needed. No one will be denied soap.
· DOC has hired a number of incarcerated workers to sanitize the facilities.
· DOC has suspended Co-Pays for medical services. They encourage individuals to seek medical assistance if they present any symptoms. They want no barriers to seeking medical advice or assistance. [Clarification needed on whether the normal RFI Process is in place to seek medical attention. Fear that some facilities have a slow response to RFI’s for medical call].
· No outside medical appointments permitted at this time unless it is an emergency visit. They are committed to minimizing outside contact with potential carriers of the virus
· No Cash Bail or Cash can be placed on Offender Trust Accounts for the duration of the Covid-19 threat.
· They are restricting parole and probation visits to only the most essential in person meetings. Most are now being conducted via phone and video conference calling.
· They are doing their best to keep residents and staff informed. They are having Town Hall meetings for staff weekly.
· They encourage the use of the DOC website for information. A Covid-19 section will be updated regularly as changes are implemented. They encourage the use of the email function on that page for family members who have questions and/or concerns. ------> https://doc.alaska.gov/covid-19
Individuals are still being released, reentry programs and partnerships are still functioning and assisting returning citizens.
· 8 facilities are currently producing masks and gowns through volunteers.
· Administrative Staff will continue to make the rounds to the various facilities.
· Individuals are still being released, reentry programs and partnerships are still functioning and assisting returning citizens.
I asked about efforts to lower the population, we were told this was a group effort and that DOC was working with a number of agencies to utilize halfway houses, electronic monitoring, probation and parole to limit those coming into the facility. They started at 98% capacity and are now at 92% capacity. [We would like more details about efforts to reduce aging/medically at risk population through the use of special medical release, geriatric release, compassionate release and clemency. What is the screening process and who is eligible for early release due to this threat].
I asked if the DOC would notify those listed as emergency contact on the resident’s file if they become critically ill. DOC will continue to follow current policy of informing emergency contact of any serious illness/death of residents. She did note it is extremely important for residents to verify with DOC staff that their file contains accurate contact information for their chosen emergency contact. She also stated that residents would continue to have access to the phones throughout this pandemic threat.
I asked for a specific list of items that could be donated for use in sanitizing the facilities and we were told "anything we use to clean our own homes" at this time is acceptable. They are especially in need of items that contain bleach. I also asked about the Securus/Free Call and was provided the information detailed above. These were considered part of my three question minimum. Laura Brooks indicated the Department of Corrections was open to having further briefings to keep members of the public updated as things progress.
The DOC is committed to keeping the facilities, residents and staff virus free through extensive sanitizing efforts and safety measures. They are however, running low on supplies and are open to taking donations of Personal Protective Equipment and Cleaning Supplies. They are especially in need of cleaning products that contain bleach such as hand sanitizer and wipes. They suggested coordinating with individual Superintendents in your community for the acceptance of such donations. A charitable drive is in the process of being organized by volunteers of the Alaska Reentry and Justice Partnership.
More information to come.