Over 70 percent of federal prison inmates who have been screened for the coronavirus have tested positive, new figures show, as cases and fatalities are predicted sore with nationwide testing efforts still in the early stages.
According to the Bureau of Prisons, of the 2,700 inmates tested nationwide, nearly 2,000 have come back positive – strongly suggesting there are far more prisoners with COVID-19 than currently reported.
With just fifteen percent of the nation’s federal prison population screened, 1,534 inmates have tested positive for coronavirus, 414 have recovered and 31 have died.
FCI Terminal Island in San Pedro has suffered the worst outbreak in any of the nation’s federal penitentiaries, with more than half of its 1,051 inmates currently struck-down with the deadly virus.
Jack Donson, a retired BOP employee and prison consultant, told DailyMail.com that the situation across the US is going to get ‘ugly’ – and fast.
‘They have only started formal large scale testing,’ Donson said, ‘and the early results are very bad.’
The top five worst-hit federal prisons are shown above (left to right): Lompoc USP, CA; FCI Terminal Island, CA; Fort Worth FMC, TX; Elkton FCI, OH; Butner Medium FCI, NC
FCI Terminal Island in San Pedro has suffered the worst outbreak in any of the nation’s federal penitentiaries, with more than half of its 1,051 inmates currently struck-down with the deadly virus
As of Thursday, 570 FCI Terminal Island inmates were confirmed to have coronavirus, along with 10 staff members. Two inmates have already died of complications related to COVID-19.
In little over a week, the outbreak at FCI Terminal Island has escalated rapidly as prison officials increased testing efforts.
To try and combat the spread, dozens of inmates have been moved into tents for social distancing, others have been moved into lock-down.
Top Five Worst-Hit Federal Prisons in the United States
1. FCI Terminal Island
Positive Inmate Cases: 570
Positive Staff Cases: 10
Inmate Deaths: 2
2. FMC Fort Worth
Positive Inmate Cases: 298
Positive Staff Cases: 1
Inmate Deaths: 3
3. FCI Butner
Positive Inmate Cases: 212
Positive Staff Cases: 13
Inmate Deaths: 6
4. USP Lompoc
Positive Inmate Cases: 83
Positive Staff Cases: 15
Inmate Deaths: 1
5. FCI Elkton
Positive Inmate Cases: 49
Positive Staff Cases: 48
Inmate Deaths: 7
Statistics up-to-date as of Thursday April 30 at 10:30am
Family members of inmates at the low-security facility told the LA Times that a military-style medical facility has been erected in the prison yard to help house the relentless number of sick.
Inmate Michael Fleming, 59, died from coronavirus at a nearby hospital on Sunday. Serving 20 years for drug conspiracy charges, he’d tested positive for the virus on April 8.
Fleming’s son, also named Michael, said he never got to say goodbye to his father. He said he was never informed of his dad’s diagnosis or that he’d been placed on a ventilator in critical condition.
The first word the family received of the father’s illness was the day he died, from a prison chaplain asking if the body should be cremated and where the ashes should be sent.
‘They just left us all in the dark,’ Fleming said in an interview with The Associated Press. ‘We had to find out from the news what the actual cause of death was. It was kind of screwed up.’
The response from the federal Bureau of Prisons to the growing coronavirus crisis in prisons has raised alarm among advocates and lawmakers about whether the agency is doing enough to ensure the safety of the nearly 150,000 inmates serving time in federal facilities.
And even though officials have stressed infection and death rates inside prisons are lower compared with outside, the new figures provided by the Bureau of Prisons suggest the worst is yet to come.
In FCI Butner, North Carolina, more than a quarter of its 860 inmates (212) have already tested positive, and six have died. Texas’ FMC Fort Worth has also been cited as a potential hotspot in recent days with 298 of its 1,472 prisoner population hit by COVID-19.
USP Lompoc, which suffered the country’s first coronavirus penitentiary outbreak, currently has 83 active cases of coronavirus and one registered death.
The victim, 60-year-old Efrom Stutson, contracted the virus before concluding his 27-year sentence for selling cocaine. He walked out of the facility on April 1, but was hospitalized hours after.
‘He was looking forward to a new life, finding a job and seeing his kids,’ said his sister, Lawanda Rangel to the Times. ‘He was happy the last time I spoke to him from there.’
Five days later, and he was dead from complications caused by COVID-19.
Similarly, in Oklahoma, a pregnant Native American woman incarcerated at the El Reno federal correctional institution died after giving birth on a ventilator Tuesday.
Andrea Circle Bear, 30, had been sentenced to more than two years in prison on a drug charge in January. She delivered her baby by cesarean section while on a ventilator in a Texas hospital on 1 April, and died there on 28 April.
Her child survived, but officials refused to provide any further information on the baby’s condition or who is it taking care of the child, ‘out of respect for the family and for private reasons.
The 30-year-old woman ‘had a pre-existing medical condition’ that made her more at risk for a severe case of coronavirus, according to federal officials, without specifying what the condition was.
The BOP has 142,255 federal inmates in BOP-managed institutions and 10,552 in community-based facilities. Ther are 1534 federal inmates and 343 BOP staff who have confirmed positive test results for COVID-19 nationwide. Currently, 414 inmates and 132 staff have recovered. There have been 31 federal inmate deaths and 0 BOP staff member deaths attributed to COVID-19 disease
While testing efforts are increased, the Bureau of Prisons communication policies are leaving families in the dark about their loved ones’ potentially life-threatening condition.
‘Not having the opportunity to say goodbye — that would’ve been invaluable,’ Michael Fleming said of his father’s death. ‘We will never have that chance.’
Under Bureau of Prisons policy, the agency is supposed to ‘promptly’ notify the family of inmates who have serious illnesses. But the agency, which confirmed the family wasn’t initially notified, has “discretion when making notifications,” according to a spokeswoman.
Prisons officials say they are doing the best they can under dire circumstances and following guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
‘We are doing the right things to manage our population and to keep them as safe as possible at this time when we can’t provide that assurance to our average American free public that everyone is safe and secure right now with this pandemic,’ said Kathy Hawk Sawyer, a senior adviser at the Bureau of Prisons who previously ran the agency twice.
As of Wednesday, 31 inmates, including Fleming, had died of the coronavirus at federal correctional facilities since late March.
His death followed that of Bradley James Ghilarducci, 73, who died last week while serving eight-years for receiving and distributing child sex abuse imagery. Both of the men had pre-existing medical conditions, officials said.
Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragan, who represents the area, wrote on Twitter, ‘This is not acceptable. It is clear they are not making sure these inmates are protected. The government has a responsibility to protect people in its care, including inmates. Being incarcerated at #TerminalIsland should not be a death sentence. We need answers.’
In FCI Butner, North Carolina, more than a quarter of its 860 inmates (212) have already tested positive, and six have died
Texas’ FMC Fort Worth has also been cited as a potential hotspot in recent days with 298 of its 1,472 prisoner population hit by COVID-19
Prisons officials have daily calls with CDC officials, and CDC teams have visited several correctional facilities. As part of the plan to slow the spread of the coronavirus, officials have limited inmate movement, set up tents to increase bed space, isolated inmates at some prisons and identified others for possible home confinement.
The Justice Department obtained 20 ventilators for use at hospitals housing federal prisoners, Dr. Jeffrey Allen, the bureau’s medical director, said in an interview.
In the last week, the Bureau of Prisons has obtained more than 5,000 test kits and now has 20 rapid testing machines deployed at hot spot prisons to increase testing numbers, Allen said.
He insisted that testing was in line with current CDC guidance and that officials are working daily to discover new strategies to slow the spread of the virus.
‘A lot is yet unknown about how to limit its transmission in a correctional environment, and that’s why we’re collaborating with the CDC to try to identify that sort of data that can inform our management strategies going forward,’ he said.
But at the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal lockup in New York City housing 1,700 inmates, there were only nine nasal swab test kits late last month, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of hundreds of inmates there. Just one inmate has been confirmed with coronavirus there, according to Bureau of Prisons statistics.
Deirdre D. von Dornum, attorney-in-charge of the Federal Defenders of New York in Brooklyn, said there was a reason.
‘They are not testing anyone,’ she said.
USP Lompoc, which suffered the country’s first coronavirus penitentiary outbreak, currently has 83 active cases of coronavirus and one registered death. The victim, 60-year-old Efrom Stutson, contracted the virus before concluding his 27-year sentence for selling cocaine. He walked out of the facility on April 1, but was hospitalized hours after
Nearly 350 staff members have tested positive, with no recorded fatalities. FCI Elkton currently has the highest staff sickness rate of 48 positive cases, one less than the prisoners tall of 49
At the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the New York City jail where Jeffrey Epstein killed himself, inmate Guillermo Zegarra-Martinez told his attorney in an email that his cellmate tested positive for the coronavirus and was put in isolation for more than two weeks.
But Zegarra-Martinez was not tested even though he was shaking in his cell with a fever during nights while experiencing pain throughout his body in the week before his cellmate was taken out and the week after, the inmate wrote.
The sick inmate was taken out of the cell only ‘because he was coughing on the face of the guy’ who took his temperature, Zegarra-Martinez said, according to his lawyer, Sabrina Shroff.
Disgraced celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti was temporarily released from the facility last Friday due to the risk of contracting COVID-19 inside the Manhattan correctional center.
Avenatti, whose clients once included the likes of Stormy Daniels, was ordered by a judge to return to the facility in 90 days. He was also made to wear a monitoring bracelet and will serve the three-month period in confinement at a friend’s house in Venice, California.
The 49-year-old had to spend two weeks under quarantine at a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility before he could leave the prison to ensure he had no signs of the virus.
Avenatti is one of a number of federal inmates released from jails across the US as officials try to stem the spread of coronavirus inside penitentiary walls.
Meanwhile, advocates and even prison guards have been calling for reforms to head off outbreaks in a prison system plagued for years by violence, misconduct and staffing shortages.
Nearly 350 staff members have tested positive, with no recorded fatalities. FCI Elkton currently has the highest staff sickness rate of 48 positive cases, one less than the prisoners tall of 49.
Staff are sent around the country to pick up shifts, and union officials say the shortages are still so severe that officers are sometimes working 24 hours in a row. At a prison in Elkton, Ohio, where seven inmates have died, the governor called in the National Guard to help supplement medical staff.
Officers worry that the protective equipment they’ve been given isn’t adequate to protect them from daily contact with inmates, especially at facilities where dozens have tested positive.
But Hawk Sawyer said the Bureau of Prisons is prepared with ample amount of personal protective equipment and supplies, including soap and disinfectant.
‘We are creating and making the masks for the staff, as well as the shields and hand sanitizer and all kinds of things,’ she said.
The Bureau of Prisons has not yet responded to a DailyMail.com request for comment.