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April 2, 2020

Death toll from COVID-19 in federal Oakdale facility now already officially up to four ... UPDATE: And a death now in federal prison in Ohio

A little more than a week ago, the federal Bureau of Prisons was touting that there were no federal prisoners or staff who had yet tested positive for the coronavirus.  Now, as detailed in this Reuters article, headlined "Death Toll From COVID-19 at Oakdale Prison in Louisiana Continues to Climb," we already have four confirmed deaths in just one federal facility:

The death toll from COVID-19 at a U.S. prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, has continued climbing, with a fourth inmate now dead, the Bureau of Prisons said on Thursday, as it grappled with outbreaks at other penal institutions....

Federal Correctional Institution 1, a low-security facility holding about 980 inmates that is one of several facilities comprising the prison in Oakdale in south-central Louisiana, is so far the hardest hit in the nationwide system.  Eighteen inmates, as well as 17 staff members now have COVID-19, said Ronald Morris, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1007 union.  Dozens more are isolation with symptoms, he added.

As of Wednesday, there were 57 federal inmates with COVID-19 across the nation, the Bureau of Prisons said. In addition to Oakdale, other hard-hit prisons include one in Butner, North Carolina with nine inmates sick. A low-security federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut, also has nine inmates sick with COVID-19.

The bureau on Thursday identified the third inmate who died of COVID-19 at Oakdale as James Wilson, 57, who went into respiratory failure on Monday.  He was taken to a hospital and placed on a ventilator the next day, where he died on Wednesday.

The other two inmate COVID-19 fatalities were younger than Wilson. Nicholas Rodriguez, 43, died on Wednesday.  Patrick Jones, the first reported federal inmate to succumb to the COVID-19, died on Saturday at age 49.

The bureau did not yet have any further details on the fourth inmate.

I cannot help but note that it seems, to date, the COVID crisis is hitting low-security prisons particularly hard and that all the reported death involve persons well below the ages thought to be most at risk for dying from this terrible virus.  This suggests that all sorts of low-risk offenders in the federal prison system are now especially vulnerable to being subject to a functional death sentence. 

I will also note that I am starting to receive calls an emails from former prisoners and from family members of current prisoners reporting deep suspicion with how BOP is handling and reporting on all these challenging COVID realities. As is depressingly the case so often in this arena, I an at once unsurprised and deeply saddened by how our nation treats the historic number of persons it decides to cage.

UPDATE: This local article, headlined "First inmate death related to coronavirus at eastern Ohio prison," reports on another federal inmate death from a distinct federal prison:

Inmate Woodrow Taylor reported to the Health Services Department at the Federal Satellite Low Institution (FSL) Elkton, in Lisbon, Ohio.   Mr. Taylor was evaluated by institutional medical staff and transported to a local hospital for further treatment and evaluation due to the inability to maintain a sufficient oxygen saturation and shortness of breath. 

Mr. Taylor’s condition quickly declined and he was placed on a ventilator. On Thursday, April 2, 2020, Mr. Taylor, who had long-term, pre-existing medical conditions, which the CDC lists as risk factors for developing more severe COVID-19 disease, was pronounced dead by hospital staff. While at the local hospital, Mr. Taylor was tested for COVID19; however, test results were still pending at the time of his death. 

Mr. Taylor was a 53 year-old male serving a 60 month sentence for Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute 500 grams or more of Cocaine. He had been in custody at FSL Elkton since April 29, 2019. 

Meanwhile, the BOP's COVID-19 Update page now reports 75 federal inmates and 39 federal prison staffers have tested positive for COVID-19.  Here is where these latest BOP numbers come from:

(Inmate) 4/02/2020 - USP Atlanta (5); FMC Butner (10); USP Canaan; FCI Danbury (15); FCI Elkton (2); FCC Forrest City (2); FCC Lompoc (12); MCC New York (4); FCC Oakdale (12); FCI Otisville; FCC Yazoo City (4); RRC Brooklyn, NY (4); RRC Janesville, WI; RRC Phoenix, AZ; FLM Guam

(Staff) 4/02/2020 - Atlanta, GA (3); Brooklyn, NY (4); Butner, NC; Chicago, IL (3); Danbury, CT (4); Leavenworth, KS (no inmate contact); Lompoc, CA; Milan, MI; New York, NY (5); Oakdale, LA (4); Otisville, NY; Ray Brook, NY (2); Talladega, AL (2); Tucson, AZ; Yazoo, MS (3); Central Office, Washington, DC; Grand Prairie, TX; Southeast Regional Office, Atlanta, GA

April 2, 2020 at 11:58 AM | Permalink


FSL Elkton lost one today, too.

While I am on it, is it necessary for the BOP to include in the press release the deceased's offense that put him (or her, but not yet) in prison? The inmate's dead... just maybe we could cut him a break. It is not as though the offense is relevant to the death.

Just a minor rhetorical gripe.

Posted by: Tom Root | Apr 2, 2020 3:45:28 PM

Thanks, Tom. I think you posted your comment around the same time I was posting an update with a that additional death.

On the gripe, I actually find it informative (and depressing) to learn that it is often sentences for drug offenses that are turning into death sentences. I find it useful to reminded that federal prisons are not generally used to incarcerate really dangerous persons, which in turn means we could likely release a large number of federal inmates with relatively little risk to public safety.

Posted by: Douglas A Berman | Apr 2, 2020 3:57:26 PM

Doug: Let me explain why inmates being held at Low Security prisons are more vulnerable to COVID-19 than inmates being held at FCIs (Medium Security) and USPs (High Security penitentiaries). While inmates being held at FCIs and Penitentiaries are housed in cells with walls and a steel door (usually 2 men to a cell), inmates housed at Lows usually live in cubicles, where the walls only rise 5 or 6 feet off the floor and there is no door, just a an entry hole in the walls. In short, inmates at Lows are not protected by the open air cubicles they live in, as are inmates who have real cells with steel doors that can be closed. Inmates at Camps may be even more vulnerable, as they live dormitory style.

Posted by: James Gormley | Apr 2, 2020 10:02:58 PM

Hello. I am so glad that I found your blog. It's great to know that I'm not alone in my belief of how horribly the BOP is handling this COVID-19 pandemic. This is an extremely scary time for everyone, but even more so for those of us who love someone in federal prison. My husband is in the Talladega satellite camp and he has an underlying health risk that makes him eligible for homeconfinement release. The BOP is senselessly fueling fear and uncertainty for the families and the inmates in an already scary time. They have taken a bare minimal amount of information approach. Needless to say, I have been internet "stalking" the BOP and the numbers of cases since Trump signed the Act in late March. I have watched the numbers grow and just prayed to not see Talladega on that list.
Then the story broke on the local news on the 1st of April that a worker at the federal prison in Talladega was confirmed to have COVID-19. I watched the number grow up to 3 staff infected over the next few days. Then yesterday, when the BOP updated their coronavirus resource page with a map showing stats for cases, Talladega isn't marked on it. You can zoom in and select it to see their stats, which now they magically say 0 inmates and 0 staff! How did it climb to 3 (btw, my husband says word inside is 5) and now its zero somehow? It didn't just go away or not happen. So why are they not telling us now and what else aren't they telling us?
Not to mention not a single actual test has been administered to any inmates. Only screening that does not detect asymptomatic cases. So how can they confirm the numbers are correct? On top of all this, they took the TV away from them yesterday without any reasoning at all given.
The inmates couldn't see or watch it right now, but they could at least listen to the news. Now those who don't have a someone from the outside sending them updates now have no source of information. They did tell him that 32 more inmates would be released, but of course not who it will be or when it will happen. So still no end site for this emotional hell that the BOP is creating for the already fearful inmates and their families.

Posted by: Rabecca Murray | Apr 8, 2020 8:45:50 AM

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