A 1,700 inmate facility approximately 100 miles from Baton Rouge has the dubious distinction of having the first federal prisoner diagnosed with the coronavirus and the same individual becoming the first inmate in the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) to succumb to COVID-19.
While Patrick Jones, 49, was that fated prisoner, there are now many more diagnosed with coronavirus and in quarantine at the Federal Correctional Institute, Oakdale. As of March 29, there were 60 inmates in quarantine and many staff members self-quarantining at home.
A representative for the corrections’ officers union said staff members were working 36 hours straight, trying to stay on top of the infection while not having the proper equipment to protect themselves.
Louisiana is one of the states hardest hit by the virus. As of March 30, there were 4,025 cases of COVID-19 in the state and 185 deaths.
A Persistent Cough
It was on March 19 that Jones developed “a persistent cough,” and eventually taken to a hospital and put on a ventilator. According to the BOP, Jones, who was serving a 27-year sentence for possession and intent to distribute crack cocaine near a college, had underlying health conditions that made him more vulnerable to COVID-19. Unfortunately, many of those in the prison system have similar underlying conditions.
Slow Action by BOP
Oakdale officials say the BOP has been slow to act in the wake of coronavirus. While prison employees were working for weeks to ban visitors to keep the virus at bay, the BOP only issued such a directive last week. Overall, the BOP oversees 175,000 inmates in 122 facilities nationwide.
The union representative says he has asked the BOP to send additional medical staff to Oakdale to assist the short-staffed facility. At the best of times, medical care in prisons is subpar, and in times like these, what little care is available is quickly overwhelmed.
The representative also wants employees to receive hazard pay and more personal protective equipment. He notes that staff members have only tiny cloth masks to wear when around sick inmates. Nurses coming to check on the sick are wearing hazmat suits.
It is likely that every prisoner and staff member at Oakdale has been exposed to the virus, according to the representative, and that everyone should be quarantined.
Federal Lawsuit Filed
On March 30, the union representing BOP employees filed a lawsuit against the government, demanding hazard pay for employees who must report to work. Three of the plaintiffs bringing the suit are employed at Oakdale.
One plaintiff described being told he did not need a mask to accompany an inmate to the hospital, and gloves were the sole protective gear received from the prison. He sat next to an inmate in the van on the way to the hospital who tested positive for the virus.
A lawyer for one of the plaintiffs noted how dangerously understaffed the federal prison system currently is, calling it “a petri dish” for COVID-19.
Pleas for Release
In other coronavirus-related news, Democratic legislators on the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr on March 30 pleading with the DOJ to release as many suitable prisoners as possible from the federal system who are at high-risk for developing COVID-19.
These would include those inmates who are elderly, pregnant, or medically compromised. Those over age 55 make up approximately 12 percent of the federal inmate population.
There is no question this will get much worse before it gets better.
Did You or a Family Member Contract Coronavirus While in Jail?
Our jail injury lawyers are currently investigating claims that inmates contracted coronavirus while in jail. While there are many variables to these cases, we are most interested in inmates who died or suffered permanent injuries as the result of exposure to coronavirus while in jail. (We also are interested in any claims of prison staff who died or suffered permanent injuries as the result of coronavirus contracted in jail although proving where the virus was contracted will be more difficult. Typically, staff claims are considered workers compensation claims.)
For more information, please visit our jail medical neglect information page. Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online or by email at [hidden email].
Although we try and answer every call, we are often overwhelmed and can’t return every call. Please be sure you leave a detailed message and note that we limit our practice to wrongful death, very serious injury cases, inmate miscarriages and sexual assaults by prison staff.
*About Brian Mahany. Brian is both a former corrections officer and a police officer. Brian uses his training and experience to cut through bureaucratic bs and government coverups.
We do not believe that all cops and guards are bad people. We do not hesitate, however, to vigorously prosecute cases where officers and medical staff use excessive force or fail to provide adequate care. Everyone has a right to expect quality care, respect, and dignity.