Federal prisons will confine inmates to cells for 14 days amid coronavirus response

By Clare Hymes

/ CBS News

The Bureau of Prisons on Tuesday announced it will begin confining federal inmates to their cells for 14 days in an attempt to prevent further exposure to coronavirus. The order is part of what the bureau is calling "Phase 5" of its plan to combat the spread of COVID-19.

There will be some exceptions to the quasi-lockdown. The bureau is permitting smaller groups for things like phone calls, laundry and showering. Educational programs and mental health treatment will continue, "to the extent practicable."

Previous phases of the bureau's plan included the quarantine of newly admitted inmates at all facilities and inmates who show symptoms be isolated until they test negative for the virus or are otherwise cleared. Inmates who may have been exposed but exhibit no symptoms are directed to be quarantined for 14 days.

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The bureau holds 146,000 inmates across 122 facilities nationwide, not including the 21,000 inmates that are incarcerated in facilities run by private contractors. About 10,000 inmates are over the age of 60 years old, a third of which have pre-existing conditions. Last week, Attorney General William Barr announced he had ordered federal prisons to expand home confinement for older inmates with underlying conditions.

"There are particular concerns in this institutional setting. We want to make sure that our institutions don't become petri dishes and it spreads rapidly through a particular institution," Barr said. "We have the protocols that are designed to stop that and we are using all the tools we have to protect the inmates."

On Saturday, the first inmate in federal custody died after he was infected with the coronavirus. Patrick Jones, 49, was serving time for a drug conviction at FCC Oakdale in Louisiana. Oakdale is currently the bureau's leading coronavirus hot spot as the bureau reports as of Tuesday night, seven inmates and three staff members have tested positive for the virus.

Across all federal facilities, 29 inmates and 30 staff members have tested positive for the virus, the bureau said.

Throughout the BOP, there are reports of dwindling resources, including proper personal protective equipment like N95 masks. That and the continued transfer of inmates between facilities around the country has left many workers in federal prisons frustrated. In the bureau's statement Tuesday night, the agency said they are coordinating with the U.S. Marshals to "significantly decrease incoming movement during this time."

First published on April 1, 2020 / 12:03 AM

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