By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief
MARYSVILLE – The sheriff of the Yuba County Jail – which houses about 430 people, sometimes nearly half ICE detainees – has reportedly asked online sources to donate 1,000 face coverings for his jail to protect people against COVID-19, THE VANGUARD has exclusively learned.
Apparently, government resources are not available to the jail.
Sheriff Wendell Anderson requested the masks from non-profit mask makers, said the sources, for a facility that has been plagued by issues of poor sanitation, including a lack of soap – a series of hunger strikes have been held at the facility over the last year or so because of inhumane conditions.
The subject of grand jury investigations, the jail, as of the end of March had 150 ICE detainees, including nine female ICE detainees and 141 male ICE detainees. ICE detainee bed capacity is about 220, and ICE detainees are co-mingled with local detainees in cells or dormitory style housing.
The jail has not commented on reports that someone at the jail has tested for COVID-19.
The jail is targeted for a protest Tuesday by pro-immigration groups protesting the treatment of those inside, specifically the scores of immigrants awaiting deportation hearings by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“The matter is urgent because Yuba County Jail is at high risk of an imminent outbreak of COVID-19 because it’s overcrowded and has filthy conditions, and non-existent or inadequate medical care there. There have already been 10 reported deaths of persons in immigration custody in the last six months alone, and at least 160 immigration officers have tested positive for COVID-19,” the coalition said.
”The last place you want to be in a global pandemic is a U.S. concentration camp,” said Satsuki Ina, survivor of U.S. mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII and co-chair of Tsuru for Solidarity, which is part of the Coalition
One of those who will be at the car protest Tuesday is Rhonda Rios Kravitz from Campaign for Immigrant Detention Reform, who, in a letter to Anderson, Jail Captain Allan Garza and ICE assistant director David Jennings late Friday, criticized the request.
“Masks – particularly home-made or non-N95 masks – are not in any way adequate to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, as asserted by the World Health Organization. The only effective way to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 at Yuba County Jail amid a worldwide pandemic is to release individuals held there,” she wrote.
“Reducing the population immediately limits the number of people in detention, along with staff, who can contract the disease. It also helps enable the separation of those who remain detained, a critical step to contain this virus and one that is impossible with a full or somewhat-full jail,” Rios Kravitz insisted, noting that COVID-19 spreads quickly in jails.
“The stakes are high, and lives are on the line at Yuba County Jail,” she added, charged that the jail has “limited medical care and basic necessities – including a reported inadequate supply of soap.”
Kravitz said Campaign for Immigrant Detention Reform not only recommends the release from ICE custody of ICE detainees because they haven’t committed a crime, but also release people older than 50, immunocompromised, pregnant, and/or who have underlying conditions.
Releasing “at-risk inmates who are nonviolent and pose minimal likelihood of recidivism and who might be safer serving their sentences in home confinement as recommended by Attorney General Barr to the Bureau of Prisons…people who are nearing the end of their sentences (with less than 60 days)” might be a good idea, she said.
And, although immigrant rights groups seek release of ICE detainees at Yuba County Jail. Rios Kravitz peppered the Yuba County officials with a series of questions about the requested masks in her letter.
“Masks are to prevent spread by asymptomatic persons of COVID-19. How are you testing to make sure people are asymptomatic and/or may test positive for the disease? How many people, including people in detention and employees, have tested positive for COVID-19 (at the jail)?”
Rios Kravitz also asked if the jail has asked county, state or federal sources, including ICE, FEMA and DHS for masks.
She also queried the jail officials if they are checking the temperatures of incarcerated, what “best practices” for sanitation and social distancing are in use, and whether the jail has considered “eliminating the dormitory living quarters” where people jailed cannot social distance the recommended six feet.
Finally, the letter asked jail officials how they will ”prevent people in detention from hiding symptoms out of fear of being transferred into solitary confinement and/or quarantined to be isolated from others,” and if the masks arrive, “how will you ensure their cleanliness (and) will there be a priority for who is issued the masks?”
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