Plagued by coronavirus outbreaks, CA prison staff refuse to wear PPE

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Publication: KCBS Radio News

We’ve been reminded about the importance of wearing masks for months now.

So why has that message apparently not been getting through to employees in California’s prison system? There have been deadly COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the state’s prisons, including a one that led to 28 deaths at San Quentin State Prison.

Another in Chino caused 27 deaths.

"The majority of custody staff refused to wear PPE and when this was reported to supervisors, the repeated response was that the mandates were unenforceable because these were adults," Inspector General Roy Wesley said an employee at one prison told his investigative team.

Correctional Health Care Services Director Dr. Joseph Bick was asked to explain the lack of compliance to members of the state Assembly, who questioned representatives of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on Tuesday.

"I think what we see in our system really mirrors what we see across our country for a variety of reasons where there are people sowing doubt and confusion about whether masks are helpful or whether they’re harmful," Dr. Bick explained.

He clarified that he personally knows how important masks are.

Answering questions from Assemblyman Phil Ting, the Inspector General said enforcement is something that did not receive emphasis from headquarters until recently.

Ting: "When you say recently, are you talking about last week, last month?"

When pressed, Wesley said: "I’m talking last week."

"I think (the staff) simply didn’t have the wherewithal for whatever reason to make this a priority," he added.

Department Secretary Kathleen Allison told the hearing she has made expectations crystal clear to wardens.