Skip to Content

DIGGING DEEPER: Pima County Jail sees zero inmate-to-inmate cases despite rising COVID-19 cases in inmate population across state

Remaining Ad Time Ad - 00:00

TUCSON (KVOA) - As COVID-19 cases rise among the inmate population in Arizona, Pima County Jail has seen zero cases of inmate-to-inmate contact.

Earlier this month at the Whetstone Unit located northeast of Tucson, the facility reported nearly half of the inmates contracted the new coronavirus.  The unit houses 1,066 inmates.

The latest numbers, according to Arizona Department of Corrections website, showed over 1,800 inmates tested positive for COVID-19.

Since February, Pima County Jail officials have implemented protocols to keep the inside of the jail from becoming a human Petri dish.

"No inmate is allowed in general population until they've been quarantined for 28 days," Capt. Sean Stewart said.

Stewart is responsible for the management of the inmate population.

On the day the Digging Deeper team spoke with the captain, it was a little over 1,500.  Normally, it is about 2,000.

He said the key was quick action.  

"We prepared for the worst-case scenario," Stewart said. "Because we prepared for the worst-case scenario, we haven't had any problems."

Cheyanne Simkins was booked into the facility in February when the protocols were put into place.  She is a trustee.  

"I've been here six months and I haven't gotten sick," she said. "I know they're doing a great job."

When the inmates are booked into the facility, they are asked questions about their health.

"If they answer certain criteria that would send up a red flag, they may be possible for COVID-19," Stewart said. "Then we take them outside the jail and isolate them."

The captain said they keep them away from coming into contact with other inmates and jail staff.

Since March, the jail has been very strict about wearing masks.

Officer C. Delgado said it has been a team effort from the top to the line officers to make these protocols successful.  

"It's just what is best for us to keep everyone safe," Delgado said.

Low-level inmates have been moved to the Mission Unit so they could create quarantine pods in the main jail.

They also asked law enforcement not to bring somebody to jail if they do not have too.

However, if the individual has to be in jail, Stewart said they would accept them.

The courts were also asked to put a moratorium on work furlough and work release inmates.

The reason, according to Stewart is "obviously somebody going out every day back and forth is a concern for COVID-19. Face-to-face visitations with attorneys were stopped as were family and friend visitations... Just having those relationships paid dividends for us."

Dividends that kept the jail population at a manageable level.

"We could manage the crisis if it broke out in the facility.  Knock on wood, luckily for us, we've had zero inmate to inmate transmission of COVID," Stewart said.

The captain said so far, they have had 10 inmates come into the facility with COVID.  However, they are separated until medically cleared to go into the general population.

They have also had 24 staff members who have contracted the virus and recovered at home.

Officials say the Pima County Jail has done such a good job that Capt. Joshua Arnold is teaching a class for the National Institution for Jail Operations on how to be prepared and deal with infectious diseases inside your facility, and how to prevent them.

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

Skip to content