PECOS, Texas (Big 2/Fox 24) – The U.S. prison population has been hit hard by the Coronavirus pandemic. More complaints are coming out of the Reeves County Detention Center as inmates are testing positive for COVID-19.
Gilbert Gonzales, an inmate’s son said, “I don’t know if he is going to make it or not. I mean I am holding strong but he can’t breathe so we are we’re really really worried.”
A study from Equal Justice reporting that nearly 160,000 inmates have been infected with COVID-19. Overcrowding, inadequate medical attention, and a lack of resources lead to ripe conditions for the virus to spread.
Janet Pando, an inmate’s daughter said, “Well what if he gets really sick and we don’t know about it or I mean I don’t like to think about it but what if he dies in there.”
“It really really hurts I mean that is someone’s life it’s a human being, you know?” said Noluvuno, an inmate’s wife.
Numerous family members and inmates of the privately-owned Reeves County Detention Center talking exclusively with us since the start of the pandemic.
They say, what really worries them is the lack of medical care and social distancing in the Detention Center.
“What’s wrong and he said ‘No, I just have a cold’ and I was like ‘Well have you gone to go get checked?’ and he was like ‘they don’t do that here, I’ll be fine’,” said Pando.
Another inmate, in a different part of the jail, claiming the same thing; no medical care or social distancing. “The law in here it doesn’t count, you know. They don’t go by law in here,” he said.
Pictures given to us by an anonymous source showing overcrowded cells and hallways. They tell us the prison doesn’t provide masks for inmates either.
Gilberto Gonzales, an inmate said, “Aqui no hay nada. No hay nada de eso, no tenemos derechos a nada de esos.” (English: Here there isn’t anything. There isn’t any of that, we don’t have rights to any of that.)
Gonzales’ son, Gilbert, is growing more and more worried as the days pass.
“Completely stressing on everybody. It’s played a role in their work, in their personal life in everything it has taken an effect on everything,” said Gilbert.
Gonzales says his father has tested positive for COVID-19 since our last interview back in September.
“Just yesterday I was speaking with him and he said that the little bit that they were able to get as far as food goes he has actually taken a lime and he has tried licking it and he says he has no sense of taste,” he said.
We have reached out to the GEO Group multiple times to get a response to these claims and to other pending lawsuits, they have yet to respond to our request.
“Ellos tienen una perspectiva de nosotros como que no valemos,” said inmate Gilberto Gonzales.(English: They have a perspective of us like we don’t matter.)
In the meantime, inmates and family members are taking it day by day and hoping change is coming soon.
“Like I said, we care about them if they don’t care about them we care about them and they matter to us,” said Noluvuno.
Gilbert Gonzales said, “I would let them know that they have to do better as far as this whole prison situation.”
Christopher Ferreira, The GEO Group’s Manager of Corporate Relations sending us this statement on Friday, October 23rd:
“We strongly reject these baseless allegations. We take our responsibility to ensure the health and safety of those in our care and our employees with the utmost seriousness. While the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges, from the very beginning we have taken extensive measures to ensure the health and safety of those in our care and our employees, who are on the front lines making daily sacrifices at the facility.
Consistent with all of our facilities, the Reeves County Detention Center provides access to regular handwashing with clean water and soap in all housing areas and throughout the facility; provides 24/7 access to healthcare; and is equipped with Airborne Infection Isolation Rooms. We have also deployed personal protective equipment, including facemasks for all staff and inmates at the Center. New facemasks are provided to all inmates at least three times per week or more often upon request. We also deployed specialized sanitation teams to sterilize high-contact areas of the Center and have developed intensive schedules and procedures for the cleaning and disinfecting of Center spaces above and beyond normal cleaning activities, as well as adjusting laundry schedules for more frequent cleaning.
Any inmates who test positive have been placed on medical isolation, consistent with the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to allow for medical staff to monitor their health and wellbeing. As a service provider, we submit all information related to confirmed COVID-19 inmate cases to the Bureau of Prisons, which it has publicly reported on its website (see https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/).
We have issued a statement on our website on the steps we have taken at our facilities to address the risk of COVID-19 (seegeogroup.com/COVID19 ), We will continue to coordinate closely with the Bureau of Prisons and local health agencies to ensure the health and safety of all those in our care and our employees.”
When asked about the photos from inside the Reeves County Detention Center showing crowded cells and inmates without masks Ferreira responded, “We strongly disagree with your inaccurate characterization of the photos.”