US federal inmate, who was serving time for a drug charge, becomes first prisoner to die of COVID-19

The inmate, Patrick Jones, was a 49-year-old man with long-term pre-existing conditions institutionalized at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Oakdale, Louisiana


                            US federal inmate, who was serving time for a drug charge, becomes first prisoner to die of COVID-19
(Getty Images)
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An inmate at a federal prison in Louisiana has become the first prisoner to die from the novel coronavirus, according to the Bureau of Prisons. 

The inmate, Patrick Jones, was a 49-year-old man with long-term pre-existing conditions. According to the Bureau of Prisons, Jones complained of persistent cough at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Oakdale, Louisiana on March 19th. FCI Oakdale is a low-security facility that currently houses 990 male offenders.

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Jones was evaluated by the institutional medical staff and transported to a local hospital for further treatment and evaluation, where he tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. On March 20th, Jones's condition declined and he was placed on a ventilator before dying this Saturday.

According to the New York Times, Corey Trammel, one of the presidents of the local prison union at the correctional institution in Oakdale, more than 10 inmates had been hospitalized, while more than 60 inmates are in isolation with symptoms or are in quarantine. At least six staff members at the prison are thought to have the virus.

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Jones was sentenced in the Western District of Texas to a 324-month sentence for possession with intent to distribute 425.1 grams of crack cocaine within 1000 feet of a junior college. He had been in custody at the correctional institution since April 26th, 2017.

Last week, it was announced that at least 38 people have tested positive for coronavirus in New York City jails, including at the notorious Rikers Island jail complex. The first Coronavirus-related case in the federal prison system was confirmed when an inmate at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn tested positive on March 21. The inmate complained of chest pains on March 19, a few days after he arrived at the facility. He was then taken to the hospital for testing.

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More than 2.2 million people are incarcerated in the United States — more than anywhere in the world — and there are growing fears that an outbreak could spread rapidly through a vast network of federal and state prisons, county jails and detention centers. The incarcerated population is more likely to have asthma, heart disease, and other conditions that increase the risk of catching even a mild virus and with the added effect of the medical staff stretched thin, many are calling for the release of prisoners.

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Across the world, the impact of the outbreak on the prison systems is being observed. Iran had announced that it was temporarily freeing 70,000 prisoners in an attempt to prevent an outbreak in detention facilities throughout the country. In Italy, protests in multiple locations broke out after measures imposed in the jails to contain the country's coronavirus outbreak ignited tensions among inmates leading to six deaths and dozens of inmates escaping.

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On Thursday, US Attorney General William Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons to increase the use of home confinement among older inmates with underlying conditions as a means to mitigate the spread of coronavirus within the country's prison system.