In one month, COVID-19 deaths have gone from 0 to 28 in federal prisons; Death count is 5 at FL state prisons

U.S. Penitentiary Coleman 2 is one of five federal prisons in Florida with reported COVID-19 infections. Credit: Wikimedia

A month ago, the federal prison system reported no COVID-19 infections among inmates or employees.

Thirty days later, 28 inmates have died in the coronavirus pandemic, and 1,046 inmates and 330 employees have been infected in 46 federal prisons around the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

The federal prison system operates 122 facilities and incarcerates or controls more than 170,000 inmates.

Inmate advocates including the Prison Policy Initiative, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Innocence Project, the Florida Council of Churches and others continue to plead with state governors and federal prison authorities to release more inmates to home confinement to slow the spread of the disease.

This week, Fort Worth Federal Medical Center, which long reported no infections, became the most infected federal prison in the system, with 234 inmates testing positive, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Three inmates became sick there and died after being transferred to local hospitals and placed on ventilators.

Reported infections more than doubled in two days at Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in San Pedro, Calif., where inmates testing positive for coronavirus rose from 105 on Sunday to 233 on Tuesday. The Bureau of Prisons said two inmates died recently in local hospitals.

Likewise, Butner FCI’s medium-security prison in Butner, NC, reported nearly three times as many confirmed infections among inmates Tuesday as it had on Sunday, rising from 60 to 173. Five inmates died there.

Coronavirus was first reported at Oakdale FCI in Oakdale, La. On March 28, an inmate there died in a local hospital, becoming the first to die of COVID-19. Since then, six more inmates have died.

Elkton FCI in Lisbon, Ohio, was the next prison to report an outbreak, and seven inmates there have died in local hospitals in the past month.

At least one inmate has died at each of these prisons: Lompoc U.S. Penitentiary in Lompoc, Calif., Behavioral Systems Southwest in Phoenix, Danbury FCI in Danbury, Conn., and Milan FCI in Milan, Mich.

Federal prisons in Florida have reported no deaths but five of the nine federal prison facilities in Florida reported confirmed infections among inmates or employees or both. Those were at Miami Federal Detention Center – holding arrested but not convicted inmates who could not post bail – three prisons in the Coleman complex in Sumter County, and Tallahassee FCI.

State prisons

The state-run prisons in Florida have reported five inmate deaths, according to the state Department of Corrections. However, the department in the past has been slow to provide death information.

Overall, 197 inmates have tested positive at seven state prisons, along with 126 employees at 32 prisons and regional probation offices.

The first inmate to die in the state prison system was incarcerated at Blackwater River Correctional Facility, a private prison in Santa Rosa County run by The GEO Group.

On Monday, the Florida Department of Corrections reported that a fifth inmate has died, but it did not identify where the person was incarcerated or provide any other details.

More than 4,700 state inmates are in some form of quarantine or isolation, either because they recently transferred into a prison, were directly exposed to an infected person, or are showing symptoms of the disease and are awaiting testing.