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More than 500 inmates at Arizona prison test positive for COVID-19, according to corrections officials

Nearly half of the prison population at the Tucson Whetstone Unit have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry (ADCRR). The department issued a statement on Tuesday announcing that 517 inmates tested positive.

Those inmates are being housed together away from the general prison population and will be allowed back when they are medically cleared, the department said in a statement.The Whetstone Unit houses a total of 1,066 inmates. 

ADCRR noted that staff are "equipped with full PPE that include N-95 masks, gowns, gloves, and face shields."

"Rigorous cleaning throughout the unit was already in place and has been heightened as a result of the test results," the department added.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit prisons especially hard. More than 100 inmates have died from coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic. According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, over 10,000 inmates have at one point tested positive for the virus, and over 35,000 have been tested.

A recent study shows that inmates face a higher number of deaths and infection rates than the general population. The research letter from Johns Hopkins University and UCLA's COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project found that inmates are 3 times more likely to die and 5.5 times more likely to become infected by the virus.

Prisons had an infection rate of 3,251 cases for every 100,000 people behind bars, compared to the general population's rate of 587 cases per 100,000. Correctional facilities logged 39 deaths for every 100,000 inmates, compared to 29 deaths per 100,000 in the rest of the country.

Advocates believe reducing the prison population through expanding compassionate release or extending home confinement privileges could reduce those numbers and allow facilities to properly utilize social distancing practices and limit exposure.

In March, Attorney General William Barr instructed the bureau to broaden the use of home confinement among older inmates with underlying conditions in response to the pandemic. Since then, they reported more than 7,000 inmates had been released into the program.

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