Louisiana COVID-19 in Detention

Background on Data | Federal | State Prisons | Parish Jails | ICE | Juvenile

(Updated June 12, 2020)

Overview

This page contains information on the spread of the coronavirus in detention sites in Louisiana. These sites include: eight state prisons, four juvenile detention centers, over 100 local jails within the parishes, two federal facilities (each campus contains two separate prisons), and nine officially reported ICE detention centers, although there are some discrepancies within the reporting of the number of facilities. 

Louisiana has seen one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks per capita in the U.S. Publicly available information for most of the state’s detention facilities does not parallel this spread, but rather contradicts it — showing only a few cases in most places, with little increase over time. The low number of reported positive cases may be due to a lack of testing. For example: in two cases, New Orleans Jail and Louisiana State Correctional Institute for Women (see below for details), once testing expanded to all incarcerated people, there was a significant spike in cases.

In state facilities, there have been 14 deaths among the incarcerated population and three among the staff. Federal facilities are reporting two deaths among the incarcerated population and three among staff. ICE is not reporting deaths among detained people, but two officers at an ICE facility died from COVID-19 related illness. Five staff deaths have been reported in local jails.

Background

In late March, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections (DPSC) began publishing daily updates on testing, symptomatic and asymptomatic positives (detailed separately), and deaths, for both incarcerated people and staff at its eight state-run facilities. Information about the spread of COVID-19 in local jails is primarily found in local news reports; there is no consistent updating of numbers and few details about the conditions within jails. The ICE website provides cumulative information about detained people and staff who tested positive, but no information about the scale of testing or deaths. We have drawn on media sources for additional information about conditions inside the detention centers.

Louisiana reported their first “presumptive” case of coronavirus on March 9th. State prisons reported their first (two) cases among staff on March 26th, followed by the first case among the incarcerated population on March 28th. The first reports on coronavirus in ICE facilities for both staff and incarcerated people were published as early as April 3rd, while BOP facilities first reported two confirmed cases in FCC Oakdale on March 22nd, however there were no staff cases reported there until March 30th. New Orleans Jail saw its first case on March 23rd, and juvenile detention centers were reporting positive cases by late March, with specific reports of numbers coming out on March 30th.

There have been several inconsistencies in information about the spread of COVID-19 in Louisiana detention sites. As examples, see below for information about the federal prison, FCI Oakdale, and state facility, Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women. 

Federal Facilities

Louisiana has two federal prison facilities: Oakdale FCC and Pollock FCC. The Oakdale campus includes FCI Oakdale I, a low security federal correctional institute, and FCI Oakdale II, a low security FCI with a minimum security satellite camp. The Pollock FCC campus includes FCI Pollock, a medium security federal correctional institute, and USP Pollock, a high security US penitentiary with a minimum security satellite camp. The BOP is also responsible for a residential reentry center (RRC) in Metairie, which is privately managed by Volunteers of America.

Oakdale FCC first reported two cases among the incarcerated population on March 22nd and its first staff case on March 30th. On March 31st, under BOP instruction, Oakdale announced that it would no longer test symptomatic prisoners or report suspected cases so as to “conserve valuable testing resources.” When this decision was first reported, BOP was reporting cases at Oakdale FCC as one facility (it only began distinguishing between the two FCIs on or around April 14th).

On March 31st, an official Notice of Alleged Safety or Health Hazards complaint was filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration against the Federal Bureau of Prisons on behalf of the staff at the facilities, who claimed negligent conditions. Specific issues included: staff were not allowed to self-quarantine for 14 days, instead ordered back after 48 hours; the BOP was still transferring infected prisoners around the country despite being in violation with CDC guidelines; and BOP failed to provide proper masks to all staff. Both Oakdale FCC and Pollock FCC were cited as facilities impacted by these issues.

Patrick Jones was the first person to die from coronavirus at FCI Oakdale I, or at any federal facility, on March 28th. Then on April 1st, James Wilson and Nicholas Rodriguez died of COVID-19, also at FCI Oakdale I, tragically followed by David Townsend and Wallace Holley, Jr. on April 2nd, George Jeffus April 9th, and Michael Lilley on April 15th. On May 8th, George Escamilla passed away due to COVID-19. He was housed in FCI Oakdale II.

Initially, the BOP only reported currently positive cases at its facilities, but as of May 7th they began reporting total cases, including those recovered. The change in reporting was marked by a significant difference in numbers at FCI Oakdale I. The first week of May, the number of incarcerated people testing positive fluctuated between 46-48. After the change, on May 7th, the number jumped to 114 people who tested positive.

By May 31st,  there were 191 positive cases (87 of whom were reported recovered) and seven deaths among incarcerated people. Among staff, there were 18 positive cases, 10 of whom had recovered (see Graph 1.1, below).

Graph 1.1

Numbers of incarcerated people testing positive. Data: Bureau of Prisons, Graph: Arlyss Herzig 2020.

In contrast, numbers at Volunteers of America (RRC) and Oakdale II FCI have remained comparatively low. Volunteers of America peaked at 4 cases among incarcerated people on May 13th. Oakdale II reported 8 staff, of whom 4 had recovered; and 7 incarcerated people, of whom 6 had recovered. One incarcerated person died on May 15th.

As of June, the BOP had not reported any cases at Pollock FCC. According to one report published by a person housed at USP Pollock on April 1st, employees are screened before entering the facility, but testing is only mandatory for those who display symptoms. As late as March 27th, “numerous prisoners from various federal detention centers and county jails in the area” were admitted to USP Pollock, not screened for COVID-19, but rather put in quarantine for 14 days. On April 1st, there were rumors that one staff member and one inmate had coronavirus, nothing was confirmed. 

Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections

The Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections (DPSC) oversees eight prisons.  Since at least March 29th, the DPSC website provided information about the number of incarcerated people who tested positive and deaths, a list of facilities where testing occurred, and self-reported staff testing results. Its first positive test results were reported for: 7 staff members on March 26th and 1 incarcerated person on March 28th.

On or around April 12th, DPSC began further detailing COVID-19 in its facilities, including new categories: symptomatic, asymptomatic, currently positive, step down, recovered, released, death with underlying medical conditions, COVID-19 deaths, and total deaths. By June 1st, there were 539 positive cases within DPSC facilities: symptomatic (300), asymptomatic (239), currently positive (427), step down (211), recovered (73), released (25), death with underlying medical conditions (14), COVID-19 deaths (0), and total deaths (14) (see Graphs 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4, below)

The DPSC began instituting policies in response to COVID-19 as early as February. On February 28th, the DPSC announced plans to screen all visitors and staff for symptoms and recent travel, and stated they were working to secure necessary hygienic supply for staff and incarcerated people, i.e., soap, gloves, and masks. They also requested that the Sheriffs Association suspend “non-emergent transfers” from jails to prisons for anyone with identified symptoms. On March 12th, the DOC suspended visitations, tours, and volunteering, and stated plans to increase telephone services for the incarcerated population. They also outlined safety measures being implemented, such as screen staff and vendors, recommending increased disinfection, and educating everybody within the prison on social distancing and hand washing methods. By the end of April, the DOC claimed it provided all inmates with two cloth masks that were washed and sanitized daily, and made extra soap and hand sanitizer available at no cost.

Anecdotal stories coming directly from the incarcerated population raised doubts whether this actually happened, as many complained about continued lack of resources and inadequate conditions. For instance, at BB Rayburn Correctional Facility  incarcerated people reported scant cleaning supplies, no social distancing, irregular use of PPE, and close sleeping arrangements. Meanwhile, Louisiana State Penitentiary was already being sued for “grossly deficient” medical care before the pandemic. This prison is an hour away from the nearest hospital with ventilators.

Graph 1.2

Data: DPSC; Table: Arlyss Herzig, 2020.

Graph 1.3

Data: DPSC; Table: Arlyss Herzig, 2020.

Graph 1.4

Data DPSC; Table: Arlyss Herzig, 2020.

There were significant discrepancies in the reporting and testing of coronavirus cases, notably at Louisiana State Penitentiary, the largest maximum-security prison in the country, known as “Angola.” As Jerry Iannelli reported in The Appeal on May 1st, the state began using Angola’s “Camp J,” which had previously been shut down in 2018, as a quarantine center for people who tested positive in both the prisons and parish-level jails. Reporting about numbers, however, was inconsistent. An April 29th “Situational Awareness Report” published by the DPSC noted that 115 COVID-19 positive people were being housed in Camp J. At the same time, DPSC reported that there were 55 cases at the prison.

There was also limited information on testing numbers in most of the state prisons, including: Allen Correctional Center, David Wade Correctional Center, Dixon Correctional Institute, Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, or Raymond Laborde Correctional Center. Those with news reports available, Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, BB Rayburn Correctional Center, and Louisiana State Penitentiary, still offer little insight into conditions within.

Most of Louisiana prisons, with the exception of LCIW and Louisiana State Penitentiary, reported very few, if any, cases among the staff or incarcerated population. 

Case study: Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women (LCIW)

Most of Louisiana prisons, with the exception of LCIW and Louisiana State Penitentiary, reported very few, if any, cases among the staff or incarcerated population. The LCIW was originally located in St. Gabriel, LA. On August 16th, 2016, LCIW started to flood following heavy rain. The approximately 1,000 women housed there were evacuated and relocated. About 250 women were moved to a female dorm on the Elayn Hunt Correctional Facility campus (now LCIW – Hunt), another 250 relocated to a former juvenile detention center (now LCIW – Jetson), and the rest were sent to various jails and transitional programs.

Graph 1.5

Data: DPSC; Graph: Arlyss Herzig, 2020.

As is noted in the above Graph 1.5, on April 7th, LCIW reported three cases among the incarcerated population and one case among the staff. These numbers increased steadily to 37 incarcerated people and 20 staff by April 21st. On April 24th, the prison began reporting asymptomatic and symptomatic cases, which led to cases increasing almost fivefold within a few days. On April 23rd there were 55 reported cases among the incarcerated population, on April 24th there were 97, April 25th 171, and by May 6th there were 217 cases among prisoners and 44 among the staff. Eventually, around 85% of those incarcerated within this prison tested positive, about three-quarters of whom were asymptomatic.

On May 7th the DPSC began to report LCIW as two separate prisons—LCIW-Hunt and LCIW-Jetson. Staff cases are still being reported only as LCIW. On May 7th there were 165 cases among the incarcerated population at Hunt and 52 at Jetson. By the end of May, these numbers increased to 169 and 168 incarcerated women testing positive at Hunt and Jetson, respectively. In total there were 337 cases among the incarcerated population at the two facilities, and 54 staff positives.

Parish Jails

Over half of the 31,000 people held in detention in Louisiana are housed in local (parish) jails. The first reported cases of COVID-19 within parish jails appeared in late March, primarily in Jefferson Parish Correctional Center and New Orleans Jail. Since then, most cases of COVID-19 have been recorded in Orleans Justice Center, Catahoula Correctional Center (also an ICE facility), and East Baton Rouge Jail. As our research suggests, disproportionately high rates of cases of COVID-19 are observed in jails compared to local parish populations. Most inmates who tested positive were sent to Angola Prison, where the Louisiana Department of Corrections  established quarantine accommodations in the facility’s “Camp J.”

The majority of the information regarding COVID-19 in parish jails comes from local news reports, local sheriff’s offices, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website. Many reports omit details about the condition of those infected with the virus and preventative policies. Because of inconsistency in reporting, the picture of  COVID-19 in local Louisiana jails remains obscure.

Testing in local Louisiana jails is inconsistent; while some parishes ordered mass testing in their facilities, others seem to have been reluctant to do so. In mid-March, most jails only reserved tests for detained people displaying identifiable symptoms. By early to mid-April, as cases began to show in more parish-level detention centers, some jails shifted to mass testing of all people in facilities regardless of symptoms shown. In Orleans Justice Center, for example, a decision to test all detained people and staff in mid-April revealed over 100 new cases among the detained population within the span of 11 days, many of whom were asymptomatic. As of May 13th, 134 of the 793 tested at New Orleans Jail tested positive, about 16% of the total jail population. While New Orleans jail was one of the few correctional facilities in the state to conduct testing on such a large scale, most other local jails have failed to follow suit (see below Graph 1.6).

Graph 1.6

Data: New Orleans Parish Jail; Graph: Arlyss Herzig, 2020.

Advocates for detained people have drawn attention to unfavorable conditions in jails. There seems to be a limited supply of soap and cleaning supplies in jails, such as in Jackson Parish Correctional Center. Three men – two formerly incarcerated and one currently in detention – from St. Tammany Parish Jail filed a federal suit in March alleging crowding and unsanitary conditions in the jail. U.S. District Judge Wendy Vitter denied the plaintiffs’ motion on April 24th, ruling that they failed to prove that conditions in the jails’ holding cells represented a substantial threat.

A comprehensive search of media reporting and county sheriff websites conducted in May, reveals information concerning COVID-19 in only about 10 of the state’s approximate 125 parish-level jails and detention centers.

Table 1.1

Name of Facility Date of Updated Total # Detainee Positive # Staff Positive # Detainee Death # Staff Death
Caddo Correctional Center 4/5/2020 1
Catahoula Correctional Center 5/19/2020 60 (ICE detainees)
East Baton Rouge Jail 4/16/2020 53
Jefferson Parish Correctional Center 4/28/2020 41 84 *JPSO 2 *JPSO
Iberville Parish Jail 4/2/2020 1
Lafourche Parish Jail 5/27/2020 1 0 0 0
New Orleans Jail 5/13/2020 134 86 (72 OPSO, 14 Healthcare Staff) 3 *OPSO
River Correctional Center 5/19/2020 2 (ICE detainees)
St. Tammany Parish Jail 4/24/2020 10 1
Terrebonne Parish Jail 5/27/2020 52
PARISH JAIL

TOTAL

  ~355 ~171 0 5

Data and Table: Elizabeth Shelbred 2020.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement 

According to the ICE detention facility locator, there are only nine ICE detention centers, most within Parish jails. Additional sites appear in ICE’s reporting of coronavirus outbreaks, and are managed by GeoGroup, LaSalle Corrections and CoreCivic. In late March, ICE  reported no positive cases within the detained population, but declined to say if detained people or staff were being tested for COVID-19.

Complaints about conditions in ICE detention centers long precede the COVID-19 pandemic and reporting suggests insufficient changes were made to respond to the new circumstances. For example, a March 26th article by Sam Levin in The Guardian reveled poor conditions at Alexandria Staging Facility. This is a dedicated deportation site within the Alexandria airport managed by GeoGroup and used as a hub for deportation flights to Central America. The story concerned an Iranian scientist, Dr Sirous Asgari, who alleged that there was no hand sanitizer, masks, laundry, or physical distancing guidelines at the facility. Further, it was reported that the neither the bathrooms nor sleeping areas were regularly cleaned. According to local news reports, by April 15th, 15 staff members at the site tested positive. At the time, it was the largest concentration of COVID-19 cases in the ICE system.

Journalists revealed further issues at other ICE detention sites. As of April 3rd, guards at Catahoula Correctional Center did not wear any personal protective equipment and told detained people to disregard any news about the virus. In Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center as of April 8th, detained people were not receiving hand sanitizer or gloves and officers provided no information about the virus. In early April, guards at Richwood Correctional Center were reportedly ordered “not to wear their own masks or gloves to avoid spreading panic among detainees.” (For more on Richwood, see this June 15th story by Noah Lanard of Mother Jones).

Issues have reportedly continued. For instance, detained people at Pine Prairie reported as late as May 1st, that they had not received masks, disinfectant, gloves, or hand sanitizer. Within Winn Correctional Center only half of the registered nurse positions are filled and the only doctor on staff has had their license suspended twice. There is reportedly no basic medical equipment, and the center’s leaky ceilings have black mold. According to the ACLU, Some detained people have been locked in solitary confinement for more than a week after speaking to the press about these conditions. Detained people have reported a lack of soap and cleaning supplies at Jackson Parish Correctional Center, even before the coronavirus pandemic.

Journalist have reported that many ICE sites are only near small, rural hospitals that do not have the infrastructure to help the detainees and handle any kind of influx of detainees. Additional reports document  an increased use of force among officers, with some pepper spraying immigrants who protest the conditions. Symptomatic detainees are often placed in solitary confinement, so there are reports of hiding symptoms to avoid this punishment.

Many ICE facilities are currently not reporting any cases or others only a few cases. At Pine Prairie, one detainee said “he saw an official list indicating there were 41 COVID-19 patients in one of the center’s dormitories.” However, ICE was only officially reporting around 20 cases at that same time in early May. Cases among staff may also be undercounted, based on reports of staff shortages within the facility from those who are sick at Richwood, despite ICE not reporting any cases among staff there. (Only Alexandria is reporting cases among staff.)

Two guards at Richwood died of coronavirus as of April 29th. The facility had not allowed them to wear masks despite numerous confirmed cases among inmates. These cases are not included among official reports on ICE websites.

Decisions about testing are left up to local medical staffers” according to an ICE spokesperson. ICE has not released any information about how, or if, privately or parish run facilities are mandating tests for guards.

Graph 1.7

Data: ICE; Graph: Arlyss Herzig, 2020.

Graph 1.8

Data: ICE; Graph: Arlyss Herzig, 2020.

Juvenile

Louisiana has four state-run juvenile detention centers. The Office of Juvenile Justice publishes a daily update of cases.

  • April 14th –> 27 cases among the youth; 18 cases among staff.
  • May 19th –> 28 cases among youth; 41 cases among staff (at this number since May 13th).
  • By early June, the Office of Juvenile Justice reported that all youth had recovered.

Guards reported unsanitary conditions within Bridge City Center for Youth. One youth reported that after testing positive, they were put in a “dirty room” for several days and not allowed to shower or brush their teeth. Many other juveniles  reported that there are no masks, hand sanitizer, or social distancing practices, despite claims by the Executive Management Advisor for the Office of Juvenile Justice that all youth received a mask and that hand sanitizer was readily available.

Other reports found that youth with symptoms are locked in isolation for 23 hours a day. Families have reported that they are not updated on their children’s situation despite OJJ’s claims they are. For these reasons, along with the reportedly unsanitary conditions, families have filed a class-action lawsuit against Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and the Office of Juvenile Justice, aiming to release incarcerated youth amidst the pandemic.

Graph 1.9

Data: Office of Juvenile Justice; Graph: Arlyss Herzig, 2020.

Graph 1.10

Data: Office of Juvenile Justice; Graph: Arlyss Herzig, 2020.

Student researchers affiliated with the Tufts University Prison Initiative at Tisch College who contributed to this report include: Arlyss Herzig and Elizabeth Shelbred.

Leave a Reply