Coronavirus Mismanagement Causes Federal Prisons to Become Death Traps

Coronavirus Mismanagement Causes Federal Prisons to Become Death Traps

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) holds more inmates than any other U.S. jail system. Currently, 163,000 inmates are incarcerated at BOP facilities. Relatively few of those prisoners are on Death Row, but the BOP’s inadequate response to COVID-19 has caused its prisons to become death traps. Approximately 10,000 prisoners in the BOP system are over age 60, the demographic most vulnerable to COVID-19. 

As of June 17, at least 6,245 inmates and 673 staff members have been infected since the start of the pandemic at federal prisons, along with halfway houses. Officially, 85 inmates and one staff member succumbed to COVID-19. However, the family of another staffer says her death was due to COVID-19. 

When the pandemic started, the BOP did not have a permanent leader in place. Michael Carvajal was appointed head of the BOP on February 25 by Attorney General William Barr. On March 13, the BOP stopped allowing visitors. 

Sick and Healthy in the Same QT

When facilities went into quarantine, the BOP put healthy and sick inmates together. Staff appeared to ignore possible symptoms of Coronavirus infection. 

The BOP continued to send federal prisoners around the nation, and these individuals took the Coronavirus with them. The inmates seeded the spread in their new prisons. 

When guards and other staff found themselves exposed to a sick inmate, the BOP did not encourage quarantining but instead pressured them to continue working. 

Although prisons are the types of facilities in which the Coronavirus spreads like wildfire, as of June 16, only 13 percent of federal inmates had been tested for the virus. However, a whopping 35 percent of those tested came up positive. In some facilities, as many as 73 percent of those tested were positive. 


Of all BOP facilities, few have been harder than its prison in Elkton, Ohio. As of June 8, nine inmates had died, and 446 inmates and seven staff members were actively infected. The facility holds 2,300 men in two separate prisons on the same compound. Because it is a low-security prison, the men sleep dormitory-style. That is not unusual in low-security BOP institutions, but it is an ideal setup for the spread of Coronavirus. 

Isolating prisoners under such circumstances is difficult, if not impossible. Cellphone video recorded by an inmate with a contraband phone shows men crammed together in the cubicles – some are sleeping and some coughing. 

The first inmate death at Elkton occurred on April 2nd when a nonviolent 53-year-old drug offender from Cincinnati, Woodrow Taylor, succumbed to the ravages of the virus. Within the next 24 hours, two other prisoners died.  Medical staffing at Elkton was just 50 percent of what it should have been. Inmates ended up nursing one another, even though there was no training or equipment. 

By April 6, Governor Mike DeWine deployed the National Guard and provided military healthcare providers to deal with the crisis.  

BOP Indifference 

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH-9) sent a letter to Carvajal, also signed by other Democratic representatives, stating they were disturbed by the BOP’s “indifference” to the vulnerable population at the prison. The letter cites the BOP’s unwillingness to take the necessary steps to protect inmates. On April 3, Barr directed the BOP to “maximize home confinement” for Elkton inmates, but this has not been done. The letter demands to know why the BOP has not acted at Elkton. 

Elkton’s local union chief has said that the BOP did not give the warden or staff “clear guidance” on how to contain the coronavirus, and they were forced to devise their own response. He said corrections officers still do not have regulations preventing them from going between quarantined and uninfected housing areas of prisons. 

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 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.


Related topics: coronavirus (14) | overcrowding (6)

Recent articles: