Colorado prison system settles lawsuit over COVID-19 protections as 5th inmate dies from virus

A fifth person died of COVID-19 while under the care of the state’s prison system this week, days before prison officials entered into a legal agreement with the ACLU of Colorado promising to strengthen coronavirus protections.

A 71-year-old man incarcerated at the Sterling Correctional Facility died Tuesday in a Greeley hospital after contracting COVID-19. He was the fifth person incarcerated in Colorado’s prisons to die of the virus and the fourth person from the Sterling prison.

The man’s death comes as the Colorado Department of Corrections enters into an agreement with the ACLU of Colorado setting requirements for the prison system’s COVID-19 precautions. The civil rights organization and a group of outside attorneys sued the department in May on behalf of medically vulnerable prisoners and on Friday the two parties announced the agreement, which still must be accepted by a judge.

“Today’s proposed consent decree provides meaningful protections for people in prison, but those protections are not sufficient to ensure the social distancing necessary to prevent the exponential spread of COVID-19 in our overcrowded prisons,” ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein said in a news release.  “What’s necessary is a significant reduction of the prison population, and the power to carry out that population reduction rests solely with the governor.”

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