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April 19, 2020

Ever more disconcerting news and notes from federal prisons' struggle with COVID

It is encouraging that the BOP's COVID-19 Update page, as of midday April 19, is reporting that in the last four weeks "the BOP has placed an additional 1,279 inmates on home confinement."  But that is the only encouraging news I could find about the federal prison system this weekend amidst a whole of worrisome headlines and stories:

I am tempted to call all of these pieces "must-reads," but I would especially encourage everyone to make the time to review the last piece above. It is a lengthy piece from the New York Times described as an "oral history of the first fatal outbreak in the federal prison system, in Oakdale, La."  Much of the reporting is both terrifying and saddening, and here is just a small sample: 

Don Cain, inmate at F.C.I. Oakdale I, via email: I will tell you how I heard the virus got in.  I was told that a staff member from education bragged about going to New York City.  The first death of an inmate was a guy who was in contact with that staff member. I heard that staff member was supposedly in critical condition in the hospital on a ventilator.

Wife of an F.C.C. Oakdale correctional officer, via Facebook Messenger: There’s also a rumor saying an inmate came off the bus as a new intake, and he brought it in.

Mayor Paul: As of last week [the week of March 30], they were still bringing inmates in from other facilities.  It took them about a week to stop those buses.  There was a lot of the ball being passed around with, “It’s not my responsibility, it’s the marshals’ responsibility, it’s not our responsibility, it’s somebody else’s.”  Well, whose responsibility is it to stop this?  I mean, I love the B.O.P. being here and everything, but you think you would have taken some precaution 10 or 14 days earlier to be halfway ready for this thing, especially when you got about 2,000 inmates and about 500 employees.

Correctional Officer 2: I know there was a conversation with the warden.  It was myself and one of the case managers that I used to work with — who tested positive, by the way, he’s been out for a week, week and a half — he questioned the warden and said, “What do you think about this coronavirus, do you think we’re going to have a problem?” And he said: “Oh, no, because we live in the South, and it’s warm here. We won’t have any problems.”  That was his exact words.  Nobody gave us new direction on what we should be doing, how we should be preparing, what to look for, anything....

Ronald Morris [correctional officer, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1007]: You got the director of the B.O.P. saying they’ve been preparing since January, and they have a national stockpile of supplies.  Well, where the hell are those supplies?  Why can’t we get some?  They did send us some national-stockpile N95 masks.  Want to know how many? Two hundred! Two hundred!  They couldn’t afford to give us any more.  They know that we’re just the first institution that’s going to be dealing with this, so they need to hold it to ration it out to other institutions because they know their national stockpile is insufficient to begin with.

Heidi Burakiewicz, lead attorney on the federal class-action lawsuit: What I am constantly hearing from workers at Oakdale is that they’re looking for guidance, and they’re getting no guidance or contradictory guidance, or it’s constantly changing.  I’m outraged when I hear people tell me: “I rode in a van with a sick inmate, and I asked for a mask, and they said: No, I didn’t need it.”  Or: “I sat in a room in the hospital with a sick inmate, and I didn’t even have a mask on.”  Or: “It was only a surgical mask.”  That makes me angry.  That was preventable.  Somebody in this agency needs to take responsibility and start protecting these people.

April 19, 2020 at 01:18 PM | Permalink


Absolutely horrific.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Apr 19, 2020 7:13:52 PM

Many of the ones 'placed' on home confinement were done so due to the halfway houses that closed as March 30, 2020. Very few, if any, have actually been released BY the BOP due to the coronavirus. They are again twisting things with their wording and lack of specifics.

Posted by: Tami Turner | Apr 20, 2020 12:54:47 PM

As of this afternoon, the federal Bureau of Prisons still says they have no staff deaths, even though there is a confirmed death in Atlanta. Their numbers are laughably inaccurate.

Posted by: defendergirl | Apr 20, 2020 4:12:23 PM

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