Report: Poor training, faulty thermometers hurt Calif. prisons' COVID-19 response

The department reported that it has more than 1,300 active cases among inmates and more than 1,200 active cases among corrections employees


By Andrew Sheeler
The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Inconsistent procedures and faulty equipment marred the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation efforts to screen for COVID-19 in the early weeks of the outbreak, according to a report released Monday by the prison system’s Office of the Inspector General.

The report, based in part on a survey sent to 12,000 prison employees, found that some workers were able to enter facilities without temperature checks as required by the department’s policies.

“Despite establishing directives to screen all staff and visitors who entered prison grounds for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, we found the department’s screening directives to be vague,which appear to have caused inconsistent implementation among the prisons,” Inspector General Roy Wesley wrote in a letter to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon that accompanied the report.

Today, California prisons are struggling to tamp down the outbreak. The department reports that it has more than 1,300 active coronavirus cases among inmates, out of 9,573 total confirmed cases, and more than 1,200 active cases among corrections employees, out of 2,284 total confirmed cases.

Wesley wrote that his staff made multiple visits of state prisons between May 19 and June 26, and that they were not screened upon arrival.

“Our staff’s experiences of not being screened were supported by departmental staff we surveyed at several prisons, as some of them reported that they, too, had not always been screened,” Wesley wrote.

The report notes that on March 14, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation issued an order that all staff and visitors were to be screened for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 before entering prison facilities.

Some prisons required that all vehicles be screened before being allowed to park, which the report said made it difficult for staff or visitors to circumvent screening efforts.

But other prisons implemented a screening area, typically located near a pedestrian entrance near the secure perimeter of the prison. The report noted that this could lead to people bypassing the screening area by entering the facility at another point outside the secure perimeter, such as an administration building or warehouse.

That resulted in un-screened people interacting with screened people, as well as inmates.

In other cases, equipment malfunctions and insufficient training compromised the screening process.

Investigators took reports from prison staff of thermometers that failed to take an accurate temperature, and that some screening staff had not been trained on how to use the equipment.

“We found that most screeners had received no training on their prison’s screening process, and of those few who had, none received training specific to the thermometers they were issued for screening purposes,” the report said.

The report found that prison staff tried to alert the administration about the malfunctioning equipment.

On March 28, an employee notified headquarters with an email with the subject line reading, “Thermometers don’t seem to work once it gets cold.”

In several cases, thermometers would quit working due to battery failure. The prisons did not have spare batteries on hand.

“Without properly functioning equipment and adequate training, the screening process was certainly compromised, and the risk of infected staff entering the prisons, thereby exposing others,could have increased,” the report said.

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©2020 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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