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The majority of state prisoners who died in were 55 years or older, and 87 percent of state prisoners died of illnesses, according to the report. The most common illnesses were cancer, heart disease and liver failure. Housed with the general inmate population in a large urban jail, the man kept getting into fights and pulling out his catheter. The inmate, who developed an infection and died, should have been kept in a medical unit at the outset, Eber said.
In jails, the leading cause of death was suicide, which rose from to from to Suicides accounted for over a third of deaths in jails. The suicide rate is now 50 perjail inmates. For prisoners clamoring to spend their dying days at home, U. But in practice, very few inmates are set free through these programs, said Dr. Inmates are not eligible for Medicaidso state prisons and jails pay full freight for their medical care, which may include expensive trips, chaperoned by guards, to emergency rooms or specialists in hospitals.
Medical care for older prisoners costs three to nine times more than for their younger peers, according to Human Rights Watch. Williams has lobbied for compassionate release programs to include prisoners who have significant functional decline or cognitive impairment — not just those who are deemed to have six months or a year to live, which has historically been the standard and is difficult to predict.
But once the prisoner was set free, TV news cameras caught him walking outside his home, manicuring his lawn, Stern said. The state threw the man back behind bars — and grew much more cautious about whom it released, Stern said. Massachusetts also cracked down on early release after a former prisoner, Dominic Cinelli, killed a police officer in while out on parole from a life sentence. That fatal shooting had far-reaching effects for other ailing prisoners. Dianne Babcock, of Vermont, was lobbying for her dying husband to be released from Massachusetts prison.
He spent over two decades behind bars. The union has sued for hazard pay and filed at least two workplace safety complaints alleging that staff were exposed to infection without being given protective gear. Prisoners have filed at least 11 class-action lawsuits against Carvajal and wardens to try to compel releases and improve conditions.
At Elkton, a federal judge ordered officials to move or release hundreds of medically vulnerable prisoners. That would not only protect those who got out but also allow better social distancing for those who remain behind bars. The BOP says its response to the pandemic began in January.
According to records shared with VICE News and The Marshall Project, the paper trail begins with a two-page memo to the agency's health staff on January 31, describing what little was known at the time about the virus and its symptoms.
It advised anyone who had recently traveled to China to undergo screening. The agency had no permanent leader when the outbreak began—an interim director had been in charge since scandal erupted over the prison death of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in August On February 25, the attorney general gave the job to Michael Carvajal.
Army veteran who started off as a corrections officer inCarvajal rose through the ranks to become a warden and eventually a senior official in Washington, D. Four days after Carvajal took over, the agency issued another memo that warned "the virus is likely to cause a pandemic. The first confirmed case of COVID in a federal lockup was recorded the week after, at a detention center in Brooklyn.
At Elkton, the staff grew frustrated as prisoners started to get sick. Joseph Mayle, a counselor at Elkton and the local union chief, said that initially there wasn't clear guidance from headquarters to contain the disease—it was up to the warden and union staff to figure out how to respond. The BOP said, "As much as possible, staff are being assigned to the same posts and not rotating.
By late March, JJ Desilva had been ill for days. Then came the uncontrollable coughing. He told Sonia they moved him on March 28 to a hastily set-up quarantine unit. He didn't have access to the prison email system there and, for the first few days, no way to call home. When he was finally allowed to use the phone, he told Rodriguez that he was with 70 coughing, sweating men crammed onto cots in what was normally the visitation room.
A BOP spokesperson said "all symptomatic inmates are treated per CDC guidelines," and "all institutions have areas set aside for quarantining and isolation. The sickest people at Elkton and other federal prisons have ended up in community hospitals. That's what happened to Desilva, who the day after his April 1 conversation with Rodriguez was moved to an intensive care unit in a nearby hospital and put on a ventilator.
The first was Woodrow Taylor, a year-old from Cincinnati serving five years on a nonviolent drug conviction. According to the BOP, his condition "quickly declined" and he died in a hospital.
Two men followed him within the next 24 hours. Elkton holds about 2, men at two prisons in the same compound. Both are considered low-security and have open, dormitory-style housing.
Two or three beds are stacked in cubicles that measure about 80 square feet, with low walls and no door. There's room for only one person at a time to stand up. That setup is typical for low-security federal prisons, making them excellent incubators for COVID The BOP has been aware of the risk for years.
A cell phone video posted April 3 on Facebook by an Elkton prisoner, Aaron Campbell, showed men packed together in their cubicles, sleeping and wheezing. After the post went viral, Campbell said in a letter to VICE News that he was sent to "the hole" as punishment for having a contraband phone. He claimed officials told him he would not face additional discipline if he issued a statement saying the video was fake. He refused. Prison Without Walls - Dead Infection - Live 95 (Cassette) 20 percent of federal prisoners are over 50, including about 10, older than 60—the demographic most vulnerable to COVID The sickest and oldest tend to be grouped in low-security prisons like Elkton, minimum-security "camps," or medical centers.
Much like nursing homes in the free world, these prisons have become death traps during the outbreak. Many behind bars have underlying medical conditions exacerbated by years of poor health care. The most recent oversight report on medical staffing, inraised red flags about systemwide shortages of BOP doctors and nurses, including 12 prisons that had "crisis" levels. At Elkton, a state medical official who visited in early April told Ohio's governor that staffing at the prison was "only 50 percent of what it should be.
Thirty-one other positions were unfilled across the prison, including three counselors, whose duties include making early-release recommendations and Prison Without Walls - Dead Infection - Live 95 (Cassette) lawyer calls and visits. Mayle, the local union chief at Elkton, said counselors have seen caseloads double from to prisoners per worker in recent years. Amid budget cuts and a temporary hiring freeze under President Trump, the BOP has lost more than 4, employees —about 12 percent of its total staff—including correctional officers, psychologists, and administrators.
The shortage means medical staff are forced to take guard shifts in addition to performing their normal duties. Elkton prisoner Aaron Campbell said he was sent to "the hole" as punishment for posting a video on Facebook that showed sick inmates packed together in dorm-style housing units. Prisoners Prison Without Walls - Dead Infection - Live 95 (Cassette) that during the pandemic, they became de facto nurses—with no training or protective gear—caring for men "going in and out of consciousness, throwing up, trembling, cold sweats, fever, spitting up blood when they cough," as one prisoner at Elkton wrote in a letter to VICE News.
Michael Bear, a year-old imprisoned at Elkton for drug and gun convictions, said he was coughing and feeling miserable when he saw a doctor there in late March. He wasn't isolated until nearly a week later.
A day later, he was sent to the hospital. He spent 24 days in a medically-induced coma. He said he remembers one dream from that time: He could see his dead wife, and wanted to be with her. Was JJ too ill to pick up the phone? Was he in a hospital? Or had he simply been moved to a place where he couldn't make calls?
But the woman on the other end of the phone wouldn't tell her where he was or give any more information on his condition. Rodriguez understood that the prison couldn't direct her to the hospital where he was—corrections officials often consider that information a security risk. So she and Desilva's family frantically mounted a search, scouring Facebook for staff at medical centers near Elkton.
They made call after call, as Rodriguez tried to find the man she had known for more than three decades. The two had met in East Moline, Illinois. He was her high school crush, but they'd gone separate ways. For Rodriguez, that meant working as a school secretary and raising kids with her first husband. A letter from Elkton inmate Prison Without Walls - Dead Infection - Live 95 (Cassette) Mireles describing prison conditions in April.
Desilva became involved in the Latin Kings gang, selling drugs and feuding with rivals in conflicts that sometimes turned violent.
He did a brief stint in prison for bank fraud in the mid-'90s and was released, only to be re-arrested in and convicted on federal charges including drug trafficking, threatening to kidnap someone, and carrying an illegal firearm. She contacted him on a whim inshe said. He had almost two decades left on his sentence. They started exchanging letters and talking on the phone.
They picked up exactly where they'd been as teens, she said, but both a little wiser. Soon, every month she was driving eight hours to see him. Before long, he proposed, getting down on one knee in the middle of the visiting room.
It was one of Desilva's relatives who found the clue to his hospital: a Facebook post from a healthcare worker in East Liverpool, Ohio, about 15 miles south of Elkton, grumbling about an influx of patients from the local prison.
A relative called the hospital and got connected to his room, but the person who answered would not confirm that Desilva was there. Later, Rodriguez said, a hospital representative called back and apologized, but said she'd have to contact the prison for details about his condition. Rodriguez said she spent the next four weeks pestering and cajoling medical professionals, chaplains, and prison staff into sharing crumbs of information.
At one point she found out he'd been put on dialysis—but nothing more. She heard he was scheduled to come out of sedation, then got no updates for days. The Elkton union chief said staff tried to provide updates as often as possible to family members of hospitalized prisoners, but to Rodriguez the stretches of days with no word felt cruel.
By April 6, the situation at Elkton had grown so dire that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine deployed the National Guard, sending military medical personnel to provide support. The union told a different story, reporting that 37 men at Elkton were hospitalized, Prison Without Walls - Dead Infection - Live 95 (Cassette). An additional 71 were in isolation with severe symptoms. Three staff members were sick, and others who had been exposed were still coming to work.
All over the country, from Oakdale in Louisiana to Danbury in Connecticut to Butner in North Carolina, federal prisons were facing the same problem: a rapidly spreading disease and no coherent strategy to contain it.
Officers are told to self-quarantine if exposed, but there were barely enough workers to keep the prisons running before coronavirus. And until late April, staying home meant taking sick leave, which is limited. The BOP still has not organized testing for the staff going in and out, even at hot spots like Elkton.
On April 11, BOP Director Carvajal gave his first—and so far, only— interview about the coronavirus crisis unfolding in his prison system. He told CNN that his first few weeks on the job in February had been "quite overwhelming" but that overall he was pleased with his work. In February and early March, while the outbreak was gaining steam, records show over 10, people flying through the federal transfer center in Oklahoma City, a main transit hub, on the way to other prisons.
Carvajal ordered a halt to prisoner movement on March 13, but there's evidence that they were still being shipped around the country well into April. New prisoners kept arriving at Elkton, even as the death toll reached nine. According to workers, new inmates were continually sent to Elkton throughout March and April. Smaller groups were being flown almost weekly.
A BOP spokesperson said prisoner movement nationwide was down 95 percent from March 13 to April 23 compared with the same period last year.
The issue is partly beyond the BOP's control: Federal courts have continued to pump more people into the system. But the agency formally resumed transfers in late May, announcing plans to move 6, recently sentenced people from temporary detention centers into prisons in order to "alleviate population pressures.
A new "guidance" document obtained by VICE News and The Marshall Project says that prisoners are supposed to be tested and strictly quarantined during travel. But Sandra Parr, a national union official, says sick people have already been pushed out the door: "They're shoving Tylenol and Motrin in 'em so they don't have a fever, then putting them on a plane.
A union official at the Federal Medical Center-Carswell in Texas filed a whistleblower complaint on April 7, alleging that the BOP "knowingly misleads the American public" about the movement of federal prisoners during the pandemic.
Andrea Circle Bear was almost nine months pregnant; she gave birth by emergency C-section while on a ventilator. Circle Bear died on April Her baby survived and is living with a grandparent. Carvajal later testified that the agency reviewed the cases of over 30 pregnant women in federal custody and transferred 24 to "community confinement. The continued transfers had lethal consequences at the Grady County Jail, a small lockup in Chickasha, Oklahomathat has a contract with the U.
Marshals Service to house overflow federal prisoners, typically for a few days or weeks at a time. The conditions there were ripe for an outbreak, as dozens of men were packed into a dorm with stacked bunk beds, no hot water, and no access to the outdoors or sunlight for weeks.
One prisoner at Grady—activist and hacker Jeremy Hammond—reported that by the end of April half of his dorm had fallen ill. A BOP spokesperson referred questions to the U. Marshals Service, which said it "does not own or operate" Grady and other private detention centers.
The jail did not respond to a request for comment. Joshua Lepird, president of the union at the Oklahoma City transfer center, which is about 30 miles northeast of Grady, estimated that more than half of his facility's 52 confirmed COVID cases in early June were people who'd been transferred from the jail.
He blamed an intentional lack of testing across the system.
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