U.S. News

Prisoner serving time for drug charge is first U.S. inmate to die from COVID-19

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Patrick Jones, a 49-year-old prisoner in Louisiana who was serving a 27-year prison term for a drug charge, became the first federal inmate to die from COVID-19, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced late on Saturday.

A total of 14 inmates and 13 staff in federal prisons across the United States have fallen ill with the virus, according to the BOP’s website. Jones was serving his prison sentence at a low security facility in Oakdale, Louisiana, and first developed symptoms on March 19, the BOP said.

Jones had been in Oakdale since April 2017, after he was convicted in Texas for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of a junior college.

The BOP said he had long-term pre-existing conditions that made him a higher risk.

He was transported to a local hospital after complaining about a persistent cough on March 19, and placed on a ventilator the next day after his condition worsened. He passed away on Saturday, the BOP said in a press release.

According to the BOP’s website on Saturday, there were five inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19 at Oakdale.

Criminal justice advocates and prison union officials have in recent days called on the Justice Department to do more to try and prevent the spread of the virus.

The BOP has implemented some new policies, such as temporarily halting prison visits and requiring new inmates to undergo a 14-day quarantine.

Earlier this week, Attorney General William Barr also issued a memo ordering the BOP to expand the use of home confinement in some cases.

However, some criminal justice advocates criticized the memo because it requires the BOP to consider not just the inmate’s age and vulnerability to the virus, but also other factors such as the inmate’s conduct in prison in order to qualify for early release into home confinement.

Critics have said the Justice Department should fast-track the release of non-violent offenders who qualify based on age and pre-existing conditions.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman