Federal prison left inmates with virus in housing for a week

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WASHINGTON – A federal prison complex in Louisiana that emerged as an early coronavirus hotspot — with hundreds of inmates suffering from the virus — failed to comply with federal health guidance and left inmates with the virus in their housing units for a week without being isolated, the Justice Department’s inspector general said Tuesday.

The inspector general’s findings after a remote inspection of the Federal Correctional Complex in Oakdale, Louisiana, comes as the Bureau of Prisons continues to struggle with an exploding number of coronavirus cases in its prisons.

Health officials have been warning for more than a decade about the dangers of epidemics in jails and prisons, which are ideal environments for virus outbreaks. Across the country, 182,776 inmates at state and federal prisons have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to data compiled by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press.

In federal prisons alone, 140 inmates have died of COVID-19, including eight at FCC Oakdale.

The inspector general's report alleges prison officials at FCC Oakdale failed to comply with the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bureau of Prisons' headquarters for isolating and quarantining inmates.

“Some inmates who had tested positive were left in their housing units for up to 6 days without being isolated,” the report concluded.

Correction officers and other staff members at the prison were also never told they would be interacting with inmates who had tested positive with COVID-19 and were not given proper personal protective gear, the watchdog’s report said.

While top officials at the prison asserted they had an abundant supply of protective equipment on hand, staff members told the inspector general’s office they did not have proper equipment. The report also found that in some cases staff members “did not understand the necessity” of wearing proper protection when interacting with inmates who had tested positive for the virus.