A federal judge on Monday ordered the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office to give masks to jail inmates as well as implement more than a dozen other precautionary measures after a massive outbreak in the jail prompted a class-action lawsuit.
The temporary order is the second time a federal judge has forced a Colorado sheriff to enact COVID-19 protections in jail after attorneys for inmates sued the law enforcement agencies. The order on Monday stemmed from a class-action lawsuit filed Dec. 14 by the ACLU of Colorado and a coalition of private attorneys on behalf of El Paso County inmates.
U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson ordered that each El Paso County inmate be given two cloth masks. The sheriff’s office previously did not give masks to inmates until after an outbreak in November began to spread. More than 900 inmates caught COVID-19 along with at least 73 jail employees.
Jackson wrote in the order that he found “good cause exists to issue this preliminary injunction in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the risk of imminent injury that the pandemic poses to inmates at the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center.”
Along with masks, the judge ordered that the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office complete 14 other requirements, including checking inmates’ temperatures twice a day, separating sick inmates from those with negative tests and creating easy, free access to over-the-counter medicines for sick inmates.
A spokeswoman for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office declined to answer questions about the order and the jail’s COVID-19 policies.
Attorneys for the inmates hope to work with the sheriff’s office to create a permanent consent decree similar to the temporary order, said Dan Williams, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
“We would like to see these remain in place for the remainder of the pandemic,” he said.
Williams hoped the required policies will help protect the inmates and ensure they are properly cared for while incarcerated. The temporary order, which attorneys for inmates and the county agreed to, is effective for 90 days.