COVID-19 cases grow at Arizona jail with largest concentration of U.S. Marshals detainees in nation

PHOENIX – A private facility in Florence, Arizona that houses more than 3,000 defendants awaiting federal court proceedings is grappling with an outbreak of COVID-19 where at least 20 jail staff and detainees have tested positive since the facility’s first confirmed case in late April. 

Close to two hundred more detainees are in isolation or quarantine due to exposure to the virus, according to Arizona U.S. Marshal David Gonzales.

The virus spread among U.S. Marshals detainees in the Central Arizona Florence Correctional Complex comes as COVID-19 cases have surged in jails and prisons in Arizona and across the United States. The Arizona Department of Corrections has confirmed 71 COVID-19 cases among its more than 41,000 detainees, and there are at least 46 cases among detained immigrants at other federal facilities in the state. 

Those detained in the Florence correctional complex have been accused of federal crimes such as immigration offenses, drug trafficking, or crimes committed on federal or tribal land. Those crimes may also include misdemeanors and probation violationsThe facility is run by CoreCivic, a private prison contractor.

Gonzales said 3,087 beds are currently used by his agency – making it the largest population in the country of people in Marshals custody. Before the pandemic, Gonzales said it was typical to have about 5,000 people in custody at the Arizona facility. U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement and the Mesa Police Department also contract with the jail, though neither agency has reported any positive COVID-19 cases. 

Even as the country’s federal court system adjusts to the pandemic in its jails, there is no easy way for the public to learn about Coronavirus cases among detained federal defendants. The U.S. Marshals Service does not maintain a public website that discloses the number of people who have tested positive in its custody, unlike the Federal Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Arizona Department of Corrections.

As of May 8, 13 detainees have tested positive for COVID-19 at the central Arizona correctional complex, Gonzales said. Seven jail staffers have also contracted the virus, according to Amanda Gilchrist, a spokesperson for CoreCivic. 

Read more at Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting