Amid growing outbreak, 65 Hawaii inmates test positive for COVID-19 at private Arizona prison

Outbreak behind bars: How the state is protecting local inmates on the mainland

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - State officials confirm a Hawaii inmate has died at a privately-owned prison in Arizona on Thursday.

State Department of Public Safety officials said the 61-year-old man was found unresponsive in his bed at around 10 a.m. Thursday and he was pronounced dead shortly after.

DPS officials said the cause of death is pending.

His name is not being released since family members are still being notified.

The fatality comes at a time when 65 Hawaii prisoners at Saguaro Correctional Center tested positive for COVID-19.

Although officials aren’t confirming the death is linked to COVID-19, a mother who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation against her son fears the coronavirus outbreak is getting out of control.

“This morning he called, and he said, 'Mom, one guy died in our pod,” said the woman.

The woman says the virus was spreading in her son’s pod.

“I got a letter from my son and it was dated October 24th,” she said. “And he says I think we’re going to be in lockdown for a long time we had about five guys go to medical today.”

The mother says Saguaro gave her son a flyer which he sent home to her. It says, “one or more inmates from your unit have shown symptoms that may be consistent with COVID-19 OR have come into contact with someone who has tested POSITIVE with COVID-19.”

DPS said a total quarantine of the Hawaii population was not put in place until Thursday. That’s when mass testing of the facility’s 1,082 inmates began.

DPS said test results are still pending for more than 1,011 prisoners.

The woman says she is worried the prison acted too late and believes these measures should have been put into place much earlier.

"One day he said, 'Mom, it’s so bad, they’re taking them out on stretchers … "why couldn’t they have tested the inmates to see who it was before it got to this point, before people are dying or getting very sick? … “it’s fearful. I cry. I start having an anxiety attack. They’re in there for a reason, yes. But they need to be safe and I don’t feel that the right precautions were taken by Saguaro facility or by our DPS,” she said.

Hawaii News Now reached out to Saguaro Correctional Center and the prison’s operator CoreCivic for comment about the outbreak and the death. However, we did not receive a response.

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