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Residents at a privately run correctional program say their living conditions make them vulnerable to coronavirus and that they could be putting others in the community at risk, too.
The Ocean View Work Furlough and Residential Re-Entry Center Facility, operated by private prison company CoreCivic, contracts with both the Federal Bureau of Prisons and San Diego County to house individuals with alternative sentences that allow them to leave for work release or to search for jobs while in custody.
Residents there said they sleep in dorms that include up to 50 residents in one room, without proper ventilation since the windows remain shut.
“We all sleep in open-air rooms,” said Michael Smith, an Ocean View resident. “It’s not the cleanest. There’s no hand sanitizer. Soap runs out frequently.”
Michael Duran, who has lived in the facility since late January, said the residents take turns sweeping and mopping the bathrooms, but the mops never dry because there’s no ventilation, and cleaning supplies aren’t being regularly replaced.
“Everybody is worried and concerned,” Duran said. “It’s a bunch of people in a confined area and not a lot of movement, especially where we sleep and eat.”
Duran and Smith also expressed concern that an infected resident could spread the virus to the rest of the county, since their work furlough programs require them to go out into the community, often using public transit.
“We don’t have the option of quarantining if we’ve been exposed.” Smith said.
Duran fixes copy machines in offices and delivers packages for UPS. He said he’s constantly in contact with other people.
“My job is to go out,” he said. “I clean the copiers with alcohol, but I’m always interacting and talking to people in offices.”
Ashley Dominguez, a girlfriend of a resident in the facility, said she is concerned about the sanitation there, too.
Her boyfriend, she said, has told her they don’t allow hand sanitizer or Lysol.
On Friday, dozens of residents in the facility sent a request to CoreCivic for hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.
“We the inmates of CoreCivic facility are requesting the proper and plentiful cleaning [supplies] & disinfectants “Lysol,” “handsanitizer,” etc. Also cleaning [supplies] [due] to the circumstances of Coronavirus ASAP,” the request reads.
Smith said they have not yet received a response.
“Since Coronavirus was first detected in the United States, we have taken extra steps to inform and educate everyone in our facilities about prevention measures such as: regular hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and not touching one’s eyes, mouth or nose,” CoreCivic spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist said in a statement. “We are working closely with our government partners to coordinate our efforts, and we have taken significant steps to ensure we are well supplied, trained and prepared should coronavirus be identified in a CoreCivic facility.”
The Ocean View facility in San Diego is “stocked with cleaning supplies and disinfectants that residents are permitted to use at any time, upon request,” Gilchrist said. Hand soap is also available, she said.
Gilchrist noted that the facility completed a state medical inspection on Friday and a county probation representative conducted an impromptu inspection of the facility Wednesday, and neither identified conditions similar to those raised by residents. She also noted that there have been no confirmed coronavirus cases at any CoreCivic facility.
Alex Saint, a spokeswoman for the county’s public safety department, said the county conducted the inspection of their area after hearing of the complaints from residents.
Saint said there are anywhere from four to 28 beds in each room of the county-occupied portion of the facility. Residents are supposed to clean their area twice a day, but have been directed to increase that to three times a day because of the coronavirus pandemic. They have also been instructed to pay special attention when cleaning high-touch areas, like doorknobs.
Saint said residents in the county’s part of Ocean View can also ask their probation officer to be relocated if they have safety concerns, though that may mean ending up back in custody.
Saint said the county’s probation department is trying to get in touch with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to inspect its portion of the CoreCivic facility.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons did not respond to Voice of San Diego’s request for comment.
Correction: After this post initially published, a county spokeswoman said she provided the incorrect number of beds per room in the facility. This post has been updated to reflect the numbers she provided after publication.