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ACLU files records request for state plans to address possible COVID-19 outbreak at ACI



“…efforts to reduce the population at the ACI have come to a standstill, and the lack of testing of asymptomatic individuals at the prison leaves everyone in the dark as to the actual prevalence of the virus at the ACI…”

As part of a nationwide effort organized by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Rhode Island today filed an Access to Public Records Act (APRA) request with state officials to obtain information about Rhode Island’s plans to address a likely, and potentially catastrophic, outbreak of COVID-19 at the ACI. The APRA request was one of dozens filed across the country by ACLU Affiliates today.

UPDATE from the RIDOC: “RIDOC receives numerous APRA requests from a variety of sources. We will treat this request just like any other APRA inquiry, as required by law, independent of the subject matter or the requesting agency. It is important to note, however, that when it comes to addressing the COVID-19 crisis, RIDOC’s positive count as of today stands at 10 staff members, two awaiting- trial inmates in medical isolation, and zero sentenced inmates. And while we are very aware those numbers can change and increase at any time, and we have safety protocols in place and ready for when they do, our safety planning and proactive approach thus far have yielded positive results. We will continue to work hard to keep people safe.”

This APRA may take some time to be filled, since Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo suspended key provisions of the Access to Public Records Act early on during the pandemic.

Once COVID-19 is introduced in the prison setting, it can spread very quickly, similar to what Rhode Island has seen happen at nursing homes. This past week, the ACLU of RI successfully obtained the release of three medically vulnerable ICE detainees from the Wyatt Detention Center. At the time the suit was filed, no detainees had tested positive, but in a matter of days, with fewer than 70 detainees tested, 8 turned up positive.

In a status report on Facebook yesterday, the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC) noted that there is “a total of seven RIDOC staff who have tested positive for COVID-19, and the sentenced housed inmates continue to be zero… As previously reported, there is a total of two commitments in our custody held in medical isolation due to the virus. All CDC and RIDOH protocols are being followed.”

Among the records being sought in the ACLU’s APRA request are:

  • Any communications between or among the Governor’s office, the DOC and any other state agency or official, estimating or predicting COVID-19 infection rates and mortality among people living and working in the ACI.
  • Any communications between state agencies discussing or recommending any possible actions the Governor or DOC might take to address the risk of COVID-19 for people living and working in the ACI, and the likely outcomes of those actions.
  • Any records reviewed or created by the state preceding the outbreak of COVID-19, that evaluated possible outcomes or recommended actions in the event of a potential infectious disease outbreak within the ACI.

Earlier this month, 52 ACI inmates whose release date was less than 90 days away were released early as a result of a Rhode Island Supreme Court order. However, no additional formal actions appear to have been taken since then to reduce the ACI’s population to help mitigate spread of the disease, such as expanding medical parole and compassionate release for inmates whose medical conditions make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, or continuing with the early release of incarcerated individuals whose release date is only a few months away.


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ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown said today: “Public health experts in Rhode Island and across the country have issued dire warnings about the spread of COVID-19 in the prison setting. Despite those warnings, efforts to reduce the population at the ACI have come to a standstill, and the lack of testing of asymptomatic individuals at the prison leaves everyone in the dark as to the actual prevalence of the virus at the ACI. At the very least, it is crucial for the public to learn what plans, if any, the state has prepared for a potentially lethal outbreak at the prison.”

The ACLU of RI’s APRA request can be found here.

About the Author

The American Civil Liberties Union is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to upholding and protecting the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Founded in the 1920s by a small group of devoted civil libertarians, today the ACLU is comprised of more than 500,000 members and more than fifty affiliates and chapters nationwide.