Federal Prisons Losing the War Against Coronavirus

Federal Prisons Losing the War Against Coronavirus

Since the pandemic hit the U.S. in March, 135 inmates and 2 staff members in the federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) system have succumbed to Covid-19. The situation will worsen, as BOP practices such as prisoner transfers exacerbate the situation and spread disease. Rather than limit such transfers, the BOP is actually increasing them. The federal prison system is full of coronavirus hotspots. 

Positive Inmate Transfers 

To date, New Jersey’s Fort Dix has suffered the most in terms of inmate and staff infections. It’s the largest federal prison in terms of potential inmates it can accommodate. Currently, 2,800 low-security inmates reside in the fort’s former military barracks. The buildings are in poor condition, with leaky plumbing, inadequate heat, and mold. 

In May, an initial coronavirus outbreak resulted in the ACLU asking a federal court to release medically vulnerable inmates. That lawsuit was rejected by a federal district judge in Camden, who ruled that “more hygienic practices” and minimizing prisoner contact could protect these individuals. That first round of infection was eventually brought under control. 

In late September, the BOP transferred two groups of inmates from a facility in Elkton, Ohio to Fort Dix. The Elkton facility had been the scene of one of the worst early BOP outbreaks, resulting in more than 900 infections and nine deaths. 

Unknown to the Fort Dix personnel accompanying the transferees, six inmates in each group tested positive for coronavirus. The Fort Dix staff did test the transferees before they were exposed to other inmates at the prison, and the transferees were quarantined. 

That apparently was not enough. In late September, there were no positive cases in the prison. That changed rapidly. By early November, 214 cases were reported, soon jumping to 229 infected inmates and 12 staff members, with no end in sight. In just three weeks, Fort Dix had gone from zero to most cases in the BOP system. 

Let This Ride Out

One inmate, Troy Wragg, 39, says the staff told prisoners that they would let this ride out. Sick inmates are not receiving medication, except for Tylenol. Wragg has multiple underlying conditions making him especially vulnerable to Covid-19 and a greater risk of death. 

Another inmate said the buildings were filthy, and everyone “looked like death.” The staff’s union president says employees were issued long-expired hand sanitizer and old N-95 masks with dry rot on the straps. 

Halt Inmate Transfers

Andy Kim, a Democrat, represents the district, including Fort Dix in the U.S. House of Representatives. In an October 9 letter to BOP Director Michael Carvajal, Kim wrote, “I firmly believe that during the coronavirus pandemic, all inmate transfers between BOP facilities should be halted in order to protect the health and well-being of incarcerated individuals, as well as the thousands of BOP correctional officers across the country.” 

Kim requested a “prompt, detailed reply” to various questions, including the protocols BOP had in place to protect inmates and staff if such transfers continued. He also wanted to know why the BOP did not require universal coronavirus testing for all inmates prior to a transfer.  

Compassionate Release Petition

On November 3, another Camden U.S. District Court Judge, Noel Hillman, ordered the BOP to clarify how they are protecting inmates from the spread of coronavirus. His order was a response to a compassionate release petition filed by Fort Dix inmate Robert Edward Whiteside. The inmate’s petition stated he suffered from pre-existing conditions and that the coronavirus outbreak resulted from the transfer of positive patients from Elkton to Fort Dix. 

Hillman’s directed prison officials to respond as to the status of facility safety measures, mitigation actions to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and actions taken regarding the Ohio inmate transferees. 

Still Transferring

Fort Dix is not receiving any more transferred prisoners at the moment, but that is not true of other BOP facilities. The severely overcrowded Elkton facility is now sending inmates all over the country. The question is which BOP facilities explode with the virus next. 

Help for Inmates Who Died from Coronavirus

If you entered a jail or prison and already had coronavirus, there isn’t much we can do. Not unless the facility failed to provide adequate medical intervention. Although we haven’t seen the statistics, we believe that most inmates who contracted coronavirus received it while in jail. Those cases were largely preventable and inexcusable.

Without a true infection control plan, personal protective equipment, testing and cleaning protocols, we believe the State of California is responsible for those inmates who died while in custody. They are also responsible to their families.

Our jail death and injury lawyers are currently investigating claims by inmates who contracted coronavirus while in jail and subsequently died or suffered permanent injuries.

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].

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