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Federal Inmates Test Positive at a Rate of 70%

Prisons battle the spread in a place where social distancing won't work
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 30, 2020 6:25 PM CDT

(Newser) – Just 2% of the inmates in federal prisons have been tested for the coronavirus. But 71% of them tested positive, the Wall Street Journal reports—at least 1,928 inmates out of 153,000. Corrections officials expect the number of cases to climb as testing expands. The difficulties in preventing the coronavirus from spreading in prisons are unique; guidelines on social distancing aren't workable. "Really, this pandemic is challenging us to rethink almost everything we do, while keeping in mind the security requirements of correctional facilities," said Dr. Jeffrey Allen, medical director for the Bureau of Prisons, which has been criticized by lawmakers, inmates and prison staffs over its handling of the pandemic. At least 31 federal inmates have died during the pandemic.

The virus is a problem for federal prison employees, too: 343 have tested positive. At a state prison in Kansas, at least 75 staff members out of 415 are known to have the virus, and another 25 are on leave because of the outbreak. With the staff shortage at the Lansing Correctional Facility, inmates in two buildings have been consolidated into one, per the Kansas City Star. There have been disturbances among the inmates complaining they lack health care access, and two inmates who had tested positive have died. "There's a potential for a dangerous situation to get worse very very quickly," said the head of the corrections employees union. "It's a danger to the staff, it's a danger to the inmates as well." (Read more prison stories.)

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