May 21, 2020 / 8:39 PM / 5 days ago

Federal inmates with COVID-19 in Louisiana continued working for days, union says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The union for corrections officers at one of the U.S. federal prisons hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic has filed a U.S. Labor Department complaint alleging that prison managers failed to isolate several inmates who tested positive for the illness.

The complaint came from a federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, where eight inmates have died of the COVID-19 illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

“These inmates have been allowed to continue normal daily activities for at least four days throughout the institution to include working in their inmate jobs,” the American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prison Locals said in a May 20 complaint seen by Reuters. “By allowing these inmates to ‘roam free’ ... these inmates are spreading this known contagion.”

A second complaint was also filed on Thursday over an alleged lack of access to protective gear.

Bureau of Prisons spokesman Justin Long on Thursday confirmed receiving a request from the Labor Department to investigate the complaint, and said a response is due by May 28.

He added the BOP is “working assiduously” to mitigate health risks.

The filing of two “imminent danger” reports this week with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration marks an escalation of the rising tensions between BOP management and the union over concerns about the safety of prison employees.

The union has repeatedly accused the BOP of failing to provide adequate protective gear and not giving workers ample paid leave to quarantine themselves when they become exposed to COVID-19.

The disease has already infected 1,735 federal inmates and 191 BOP staff. To try to slow its spread, the BOP has implemented a lockdown that largely confines inmates to their cells, and imposed 14-day quarantines on inmates if they display symptoms, are exposed to those who do, or transfer in from another facility.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell

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