Coronavirus-fueled tensions inside prisons and jails are boiling over into riots, standoffs and hunger strikes, the Wall Street Journal reports. Officers at a Washington state penitentiary fired nonlethal rounds and used pepper spray to break up a demonstration of more than 100 inmates Wednesday night after six inmates tested positive there, officials said. At Oakdale federal prison in Louisiana, a hot spot for the COVID-19 crisis behind bars, at least one inmate was sprayed and handcuffed last night after previously sick inmates were put back in with the general population, inmates and guards said. Immigrants protesting unhygienic conditions in federal custody have staged hunger strikes and are defying guards, advocates said. In the federal prison system with nearly 175,000 inmates, 253 inmates and 85 staff have tested positive, and eight prisoners have died. The Butner prison complex in North Carolina has 76 cases between staff and inmates, the largest outbreak in federal prisons, says the Raleigh News & Observer.
Inmates living in cramped and often unsanitary conditions in facilities with strained medical systems fear officials aren’t doing enough to protect them. Correctional officers say their bosses have been slow to respond to concerns about exposure and a lack of protective equipment. At Monroe Correctional Complex, a minimum-security Washington state prison with 450 inmates, prisoners last night set off fire extinguishers and demonstrated in the recreation yard. Guards fired sting balls—which emit light, noise and rubber pellets—at the inmates when they refused orders to stop. “It is believed at this time that the incident was caused by recent positive test results” for coronavirus, the corrections department said. Prison advocates said last night’s incident was a protest over the conditions at Monroe, where inmates sleep feet from each other in crowded dorm-style housing and share common areas.