EL CENTRO — In light of the 10 inmates and two correctional officers at Imperial County Jail having tested positive for COVID-19, two other inmates have noted a variety of safety concerns they believe put them and other inmates at risk of also being infected.

Inmates Edward Montenegro and Michael Dibble contacted the Imperial Valley Press to bring their concerns to light.

Montenegro alleged jail staff is not doing enough sanitizing; social distancing guidelines are not being followed, and correctional officers are not changing gloves when going from pod to pod.

Chief Deputy Thomas Garcia, who works in in the jail operations division, said correctional officers have been handing out sanitizer bottles to inmates twice a day.

In past years, Imperial County Jail, like other correctional facilities, discontinued using bleach because it could be used as a weapon, Garcia said. However, with the onset of COVID-19, bleach, because it is one of the most effective sanitizers available, was brought back and distributed to the housing units.

Typical spray bottles did not handle the bleach too well, so the jail was able to get better bottles like the ones used to kill weeds.

Nevertheless, Montenegro and Dibble wanted to know why the handcuffs and leg shackles were rarely sanitized, as well as why they were provided only one jump suit.

Garcia acknowledged that the inmates concerns about correctional officers not changing gloves when going from module to module has been addressed by telling them to be more diligent in changing gloves when going to a different housing unit.

He added that the correctional officers who were not changing gloves may have been only touching the outer doors, not anything inside the cells.

The cloth face coverings all inmates received by April 23 still have to be washed in the sink of the cell to ensure they can keep their mask.

“We did encourage them to wash them in the sink,” Garcia said. “They prefer to wash the cloths in their own sinks.”

Both inmates questioned why correctional officers were allowed to use N95 masks, while they had to use cloth face coverings.

Dibble said he was housed in a holding cell with a person who displayed the symptoms of the virus. He said he banged on the cell door until he was removed from that cell.

“I am concerned about everything,” Dibble said. 

Garcia said he did not think a correctional officer would ever house a person who showed symptoms with an inmate with no symptoms in the same cell.

“We would not put anyone in a holding cell with someone who has symptoms,” he said.

On social distancing, Garcia pointed out the jail can house close to 1,000 inmates, but currently the headcount is 220, so inmates are able to keep their distances, Each inmate also has his own cell.   

Garcia said jail staff also tries to educate the inmates the best they can about the virus and require the inmates to be wearing face masks or coverings when out of their cells in a common area.

Garcia said all of the 10 inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 were from one housing unit. No other inmate from any other housing unit has tested positive for the virus.

In efforts to keep the staff at the jail safe, they are being provided with N95 masks, more hand-sanitizing stations and bottles of sanitizer to carry with them.

Staff Writer Michael Maresh can be reached at mmaresh@ivpressonline.com.

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