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Lawsuit: Inmates want hand sanitizer, social distancing amid COVID-19 crisis

The lawsuit claims that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has failed to put in place the necessary infection control policies and practices at a geriatric prison

By Sarah Calams

GRIMES COUNTY, Texas — Two inmates filed a lawsuit Monday arguing that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is failing to properly protect inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Inmates Laddy Valentine, 69, who has a heart condition, and Richard King, 73, who has diabetes, say prisoners at the Pack Unit, a geriatric prison, are at risk of being exposed to COVID-19 due to the lack of necessary infection control policies and practices in place, according to the Texas Tribune.

“Despite the ticking time bomb that COVID-19 represents, TDCJ has failed to implement necessary or even adequate policies and practices at the Pack Unit,” the complaint said. "… In practice the situation is even worse, as TDCJ has failed to implement many of its own policies.”

As a result, Pack Unit inmates asked U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison for unrestricted access to hand soap, disposable towels, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies. They also asked Judge Ellison for social distancing measures to be put in place in areas like dining and recreation spaces.

Jeremy Desel, TDCJ spokesperson, said their protocols are currently based on guidance and recommendations from the CDC.

“The health and wellbeing of TDCJ employees and contractors as well as the offenders in our custody is of utmost importance,” Desel said. "... As guidance from the CDC and state health officials evolves so do our practices.”

TDCJ also said they have developed new infection control protocols, including the disinfection of prison areas, limiting group activities, and halting visitations and transportation of inmates.

Inmates Valentine and King argued that the state’s policies do not follow the CDC’s recommendations, such as relaxing restrictions on hand sanitizer. They also claim inmates are not being properly educated on COVID-19 symptoms and prevention methods.

“The only known, effective measures to reduce the risk for vulnerable people of serious illness or death caused by COVID-19 are aggressive social distancing and heightened attention to hygiene and disinfection — measures that TDCJ is making impossible at the Pack Unit,” the complaint continued.

Attorneys have requested the lawsuit be classified as a class-action suit as well as including subclasses for inmates who are high-risk for developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.