U.S. Justice Department watchdog: Louisiana prison officials botched COVID-19 pandemic

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal Bureau of Prison (BOP) officials made numerous mistakes that hobbled their ability to control the spread of COVID-19 at a federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, the U.S. Justice Department’s internal watchdog has found.

In a report issued on Tuesday, Inspector General Michael Horowitz faulted Oakdale prison officials, saying they “failed to promptly” implement COVID-19 screening protocols, took too long to limit inmate movement and failed to properly quarantine and isolate inmates, among other issues.

“We identified numerous failures in Oakdale officials’ response to the COVID-19 outbreak that undermined their ability to contain the spread of the disease at the complex,” the report says.

Oakdale was among the first federal prisons to experience a serious outbreak of COVID-19, and one of its inmates - Patrick Jones, who was imprisoned for nearly 13 years on a nonviolent drug charge - was the first in a now lengthy list of federal inmates to die from the disease.

As of Nov. 8, more than 1,400 Oakdale inmates had tested positive for COVID-19, and eight inmates have died from the illness, according to data the BOP provided to the inspector general.

In a response provided to the inspector general, the BOP’s deputy director said the bureau took issue with some of the report’s claims.

The BOP said it complied with guidance to screen staff and inmates for COVID, took proper steps to limit inmate movement during the pandemic, and provided proper protective gear and guidance to employees on how to take precautions to protect against the spread of the disease.

“The BOP self-identified and remedied areas where mitigation strategies were not consistently applied or where improvements in mitigation strategies or the implementation of them could be made, including changes in personnel where appropriate,” BOP spokesman Justin Long told Reuters in a statement.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Lincoln Feast.