Inmates, Staff On Edge As COVID-19 Spreads Through Federal Prisons

Prisoners deserve our attention too. A prison sentence is not meant to be a death sentence.

LUCAS: That’s Arjeane Thompson (ph). Her boyfriend, Brandon Livas (ph), is an Oakdale inmate. They’re in touch on a daily basis via email and phone. She says Livas is usually pretty stoic. But last week, that changed.

THOMPSON: Brandon sounded really, really panicked - just terrified that he might die in there. And he’s just like, I’m not going to die like this.

LUCAS: Those worries are not unfounded. Five inmates at Oakdale have died from COVID-19. Twenty-two have tested positive, as have four staff, according to the Bureau of Prisons. A week ago, the bureau announced a 14-day lockdown at all federal prisons to try to slow the virus’s spread. Inmates are to be confined to their cells. But for Livas and the 140 or so others at his facility, there are no cells to be locked in. They sleep in barracks-style buildings in bunk beds set about 3 feet apart. Again, Thompson.

THOMPSON: So there’s two rooms with 70 bunks. And all night long, he has a hard time sleeping because of the coughing.