Coronavirus Strains Inmates And Staff At Federal Prisons 

Coronavirus Strains Inmates And Staff At Federal Prisons 

Federal prisons are struggling to contain the accelerating rate of coronavirus transmission in over 24 facilities around the US. Since the start of the outbreak, seven inmates have died, and 140 have become infected, as well as 60 employees.

Currently, the Federal Correctional ZComplex in Oakdale, Louisianna is among the country’s worst affected. In addition to a minimum-security camp, the complex also contains two low-security prisons. Altogether, the facility holds about 2,000 inmates.

In an interview with NPR, Arjeane Thompson, whose boyfriend Brandon Livas resides at the prison, said, “They’re all really afraid. They feel like they’re sitting ducks, really just kind of waiting to get infected because it’s getting out of control over there pretty quickly.”

Since the start of the US pandemic, the country’s imprisoned population has been a point of contention. In addition to Oakdale, 30 other federal correctional facilities have reported cases of the coronavirus spreading to inmates and workers.

In an attempt to curtail the rapid transmission has motivated the Bureau of Prisons to implement a two-week lockdown throughout 122 facilities in the country.

Relief Measures To Handle Inadequate Social Distancing

In many correctional facilities, lockdown indicates cell confinement as a means to widen social distancing, however possible.

But places like Oakdale have no cells. Instead, inmates sleep in barracks that have bunk beds situated three feet from each other — only half of the distance for proper social distancing.

Some inmates, like Livas, have masks saved from jobs they held in prison. For people like him, these face coverings are the only way to protect themselves in congested areas. 

Many inmates have underlying health conditions that put them at a higher risk of catching the coronavirus. There are questions about what precautions officials are taking to protect this vulnerable group. Not all corrections officers wear masks, and many alternate in different parts of the prison throughout the day.

When the first inmate at Oakdale passed from the coronavirus on March 28, inmates were still permitted to assemble the next day.

The Just Department has made attempts to alleviate the strain on prisons, inmates, and staff. The most recent measure arrived on April 3 after Attorney General William Barr told the Bureau of Prisons to move more inmates to home confinement and move faster to release those with a high risk of transmission.

These actions offer small relief for inmates and their loved ones desperate to escape the threat of the coronavirus while imprisoned.

Concerns For Staff Members

Federal employees working at corrections facilities share the same fears as inmates. NPR interviewed Ronald Morris, a maintenance worker at Oakdale, and the president of a local prison workers’ union. 

Morris said Oakland is “the epicenter of the pandemic for the bureau. This virus is no respecter of persons. It doesn’t care if you’re a staff member or an inmate. And that’s the dangerous nature of what we’re dealing with.”

Morris added that including the five who passed, 26 new inmates developed COVID-19 on April 6. Currently, six remain in ICU, and four are on ventilators.

Twenty-one staff members have also contracted the virus, and one has been sent to the hospital. Meanwhile, 17 more employees are anxiously waiting for their results.

Working in prison is already a high-stress environment. But the threat of the coronavirus has made it nearly impossible for employees to manage. Morris told NPR that many staff members now have to work double shifts every day, and some are working 40 hours in a row.

Estimates say that 80% of Oakdale’s staff have been exposed to the coronavirus. If that is the case, then many are also bringing the virus back home with them and exposing their families. 

Some have stopped going to work out of safety concerns. But that places even more strain on those who continue running day-to-day operations in federal prison facilities.


  • Lucas, Ryan. “’They’re All Really Afraid’: Coronavirus Spreads In Federal Prisons.” NPR, NPR, 7 Apr. 2020,

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Madison Powers
Madison Powers