COVID19: Lockdown At Terminal Island Federal Prison Curbs Deadly Coronavirus Outbreak

A week ago, Terminal Island federal prison in San Pedro, California, had the most important known coronavirus outbreak within the federal penal system. quite 700 inmates ― nearly 70% of the low-security facility’s population ― had tested positive for COVID-19. 

But a proactive testing and segregation strategy that Bureau of Prisons officials and therefore the l. a. Department of Public Health implemented late last month has seemingly produced a rapid reduction within the cases. Faced with the health crisis, officials took dramatic steps ― a lockdown of the power , mandated testing of all prisoners, and separating inmates by their COVID-19 status. 

After what the bureau termed an “aggressive testing and quarantine mitigation strategy,” quite 567 inmates have recovered, while 130 remain infected. Eight inmates have died within the pandemic. 

It’s hard to celebrate what went on at Terminal Island, a coastal facility with what BOP has marketed to potential interns as “impressive ocean views,” as a hit story. along side the deaths, inmates were stop from email and phone involves weeks, unable to succeed in desperate relations checking out information on their loved ones. And a congresswoman who visited the prison within the week expressed concern about the “terrible situation” prisoners were in and therefore the facility’s ability to implement social distancing in the prison environment going forward.

Yet Terminal Island’s actions show how critical testing are often in slowing the spread of COVID-19, which has ripped through prisons across the country. And had Terminal Island’s testing system been implemented a touch earlier, it likely would have saved additional lives.

Terminal Island temporarily shot to the highest of the BOP’s outbreak list not necessarily because the disease was especially virulent there, but because it had been among the primary of the federal institutions to implement widespread testing of its prisoner population. The results underscored how quickly COVID-19 can spread within the low-security prison setting where inmates constantly interact in cramped communal settings.
Terminal Island began mandatory testing on April 23, after two prisoners had already died and a couple of others were hospitalized on their deathbeds. The testing regime revealed many inmates were infected with COVID-19, though officials said the overwhelming majority were asymptomatic. 

“The reason the numbers [were] so high at Terminal Island is because we are testing every single inmate,” said John Kostelnik, the western regional vice chairman of BOP’s union. “We tested everyone, and that’s why the numbers are so high.”

Those inmates testing positive began a 14-day stick with other infected inmates. those that tested negative were retested after 10 days, and people who then came up positive were faraway from the group. The “systematic attrition process,” said BOP, “significantly shortens the general span of the viral infection within the prison.” 

The federal prison in Lompoc, California, a low-security facility prison located nearly three hours northwest of Terminal Island that recently overtook it atop the BOP’s coronavirus outbreak list, began universal testing in early May. Working with a personal company, BOP found that COVID-19 had torn through the facility: 882 of its 963 inmates were listed as positive as of Wednesday, and just 25 had recovered. Like Terminal Island, Lompoc officials restricted inmates’ phone and email access and worked to separate inmates by their COVID-19 status. 

The fact that a much bigger outbreak may are curbed doesn’t mean all is well at Terminal Island. 

The BOP announced the foremost recent death of an inmate there on Wednesday ― James Lino, a 65-year-old who had been hospitalized since April 16 and on a ventilator since April 18. Lino was serving a 34-month sentence for conspiracy to distribute and possess quite 50 grams of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, and had been at Terminal Island since February 2019. 

One of the foremost recent Terminal Island inmates to die was Scott Douglas Cutting, Sr., a 70-year-old serving a two-year sentence for aiding and assisting within the preparation of false tax returns. Other Terminal Island inmate deaths include a 73-year-old incarcerated on a toddler pornography distribution charge, another 73-year-old imprisoned on a toddler pornography production charge, a 59-year-old convicted of a methamphetamine charge, an 80-year-old serving a sentence for child sexual assault , a 54-year-old convicted of in depth drug charges, and 58-year-old serving an immigration charge.

Democratic Rep. Nanette Diaz BarragƔn, whose district includes the prison, is one among the few outsiders to go to Terminal Island since the lockdown began. In an interview with HuffPost after her visit in the week , BarragƔn she was concerned about the living conditions for inmates who had tested positive for COVID-19.

“There were like 70 inmates during this small room where there’s just bunk beds,” she said. “There really is not any thanks to maintain six feet of social, physical distancing that we’re being asked to try to to .”

BarragĆ”n said she had difficulty communicating with many of the prisoners under the tour’s conditions, but that a lot of were yelling bent the warden posing for air con and to be allowed to speak to their families. Terminal Island inmates have only recently been ready to communicate with their families in five-minute phone calls, consistent with the BOP.

BarragĆ”n described touring the power with the warden while wearing extensive personal protective equipment as she looked upon inmates living within the close quarters amid the pandemic with only the bare minimum protective equipment. 

“All they need may be a little cloth mask,” she said. “We’re during a full gown, we’re during a full N-95 mask that seals on your face... we've a face shield on. We were fully loaded with protection, and you'll only imagine what they felt like once we walked in and they’ve got nothing, and their families can’t give them anything.”

Alex Reynoso, a BOP employee at Terminal Island and union official, said the pandemic has created arduous conditions for corrections officers.

“It’s been tons of labor . Some staff members are staying at hotels because they don’t want to bring it home,” Reynoso told HuffPost. “They don’t see their children immediately , they don’t want to risk it. So staff is abandoning tons of life to be ready to run the prisons.”

“Every single staffer has got to learn to try to to every other job, because we’re those doing everything now (rather than inmates), from cleaning to cooking,” Reynoso said. “I don’t cook, but I needed to assist out and I’ve need to do a touch little bit of cooking now.”

Officially, 15 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. But while inmate testing has been mandatory, BOP can’t compel that for workers members, meaning truth extent of the outbreak at Terminal Island staffers isn’t known. 

“I desire we'd like to be treated more by the general public as first responders,” Reynoso said. “It’s just amazing what (staff members) do. We’re talking about 12 hour days. That alone drains your body.”

BarragĆ”n has advocated releasing more Terminal Island prisoners to home confinement, especially because the overwhelming majority of inmates there require only low-security measures. So far, only a couple of Terminal Island prisoners are approved for home confinement. 

“These inmates have nowhere to travel . They certainly didn’t bring it from the surface ,” BarragĆ”n said. “The people that are exposing them are really people that are coming in and out, like staff and officers.”

David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said that even at Terminal Island, it’s “not too late” to think about release for those prisoners who haven’t tested positive for COVID-19.

“The most vital thing we will do is to urge people out, both to guard particularly vulnerable people that , if they become infected with the virus are at very grave risk of great illness or death, and to guard those that are left behind to enable them to practice social distancing and enhance sanitation,” Fathi said. “So cutting the population helps both groups, both those that are released… and people who are left behind.”

ut Kostelnik, the BOP union official who helped organize BarragĆ”n’s tour, thinks proposals for much wider use of home confinement aren’t feasible. He said quite 300 of Terminal Island’s inmates are sex offenders, which makes them ineligible for such status. A history of violence also disqualifies many other inmates for home confinement.

Kostelnik criticized Barragan’s comments on the conditions at Terminal Island and said she should’ve done more to thank officers who are “putting their own safety and wellbeing in danger” to stay the prison running.

“One thing that ought to be acknowledged that the congresswoman did not recognize is that we were ready to test over 1,000 inmates in pace , which was the results of diligence and lots of hours for our medical staff and correctional officers,” Kostelnik told HuffPost. “We do everything feasible to guard the community and inmates, alike.”

Universal testing of inmates won’t be enough to prevent coronavirus deaths behind bars, Fathi said. the foremost effective thanks to save inmates’ lives is to scale back prison density. Just over 2,500 inmates ― alittle fraction of the BOP’s population of nearly 140,000 ― are placed on home confinement since late March. 

“Really, the sole thing that the experts are telling us can make a meaningful difference in slowing the spread of the virus in prison is to chop the population,” he said. “On that score, the bureau has failed miserably.”

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