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Second inmate at Louisiana’s Oakdale prison dies from coronavirus illness, official says

Second inmate at Louisiana’s Oakdale prison dies from coronavirus illness, official says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A second inmate at the federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana has died from the illness caused by the new coronavirus, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) confirmed to Reuters on Wednesday.

The spokesman said he could not provide further details until the inmate’s next of kin has been notified.

The news comes after Patrick Jones, a 49-year-old African-American man serving a 27-year term at Oakdale for drug offenses largely committed when he was a teenager, died on Saturday after becoming infected with the new coronavirus.

Criminal justice advocates and public defenders have been calling on the Justice Department to release low-level, non-violent offenders into home confinement, as a way to reduce the prison population and contain the spread of the virus in prison systems.

Oakdale, a low security prison with a little less than 1,000 inmates, has become what union officials there describe as “ground zero” for the coronavirus outbreak in the federal prison system.

As of Wednesday, there were nine inmates who had tested positive for the coronavirus and 10 staff members who had come down with the highly contagious COVID-19 respiratory illness, said Ronald Morris, president of American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 1007. Another 32 inmates with symptoms are being held in isolation and 82 others with possible exposure are quarantined, he said.

One of the 10 BOP staff members with COVID-19 is in an intensive care unit struggling to breathe, Morris told Reuters this week.

Jones’ death and the employee’s illness has rattled defense lawyers, families with incarcerated relatives and staff, who say the Bureau of Prisons is not doing enough to protect people across its 122 prisons and jails.

The BOP reported lower coronavirus figures for Oakdale, saying seven inmates and three staffers have been diagnosed. However, a spokesman acknowledged in a statement that there has been an uptick in cases and a presumption that those showing symptoms are positive for COVID-19.

“It’s pretty scary,” Morris said. “This is something you can’t see and you can’t feel and you can’t hear and you can’t smell.”

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot

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