Federal Prisons Chief Defends Virus Response: ‘We’re Doing Pretty Good’

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In his first interview since the pandemic began, Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal told CNN that his agency has faced the most challenging situation the federal prison system has been confronted with in decades.

“I don’t think anybody was ready for this Covid, so we’re dealing with it just as well as anybody else and I’d be proud to say we’re doing pretty good,” said Carvajal, who was named director in late February during the pandemic.

In less than a month, federal prisons have gone from one reported coronavirus case, to at least 318 inmates and 163 staff diagnosed with the disease.

But some warn that the toll will escalate.

As the coronavirus spreads in the 122-facility federal prison system, the Oakdale, La., prison has suffered the deadliest results so far. In three weeks, six of the nine inmates in the federal system who have died of COVID-19 were at Oakdale, the Washington Post reports..

More than 100 Oakdale inmates are under quarantine, and four staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Some 57 corrections officers, inmates and family members told the newspaper they fear the Bureau of Prisons’ mishandling of the pandemic at Oakdale and other prisons will lead to a massive death toll.

Oakdale prisoners assigned to clean sinks, toilets and showers are ignoring their jobs because they fear the work will kill them.

“They are keeping us in the dark; they are keeping the community in the dark about what is happening here,” said officers union president Corey Trammel.

“The bureau needs to be educating our staff more on what to do. I don’t have any answers for my staff. I’m going on the internet to figure out what to do.”

While the reported number of sickened inmates represents less than half a percent of the total federal prison system, the rapid spread of the virus behind the walls of the Bureau of Prison’s facilities has mirrored the outside world, and new clusters of the pandemic have emerged at prisons across the country with alarming speed.

Inmates, officers and civil liberties advocates say it paints a picture of a system that moved too slowly and continues to leave people behind bars in unhygienic conditions without enough protective equipment.

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