Hundreds of inmates at a federal prison in Jefferson County have come down with COVID-19 in recent days, marking one of the worst outbreaks in Colorado.
The Englewood Federal Correctional Institution, which has a total capacity of 900 inmates, now holds 451 who've tested positive for COVID, according to the Bureau of Prisons website. That puts it at the top of the federal prison system for current inmate case counts. And out of a total 251 staffers at the facility, fifty have tested positive for COVID.
FCI Englewood is a low-security federal prison that also has an "adjacent minimum security satellite camp and a detention center," according to the BOP website. Many of those staying at the detention center are pre-trial detainees. Others are more high-profile inmates like former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who was released in February after President Donald Trump pardoned him...and before COVID hit.
The fast rise in COVID cases at FCI Englewood is keeping pace with a huge COVID outbreak among detainees at the El Paso County Jail that started in November, with 859 COVID cases among detainees reported on November 8.
The Bureau of Prisons Office of Public Affairs declined to answer specific questions about the FCI Englewood outbreak, noting that "for safety, security, and privacy reasons, we do not discuss the medical condition of staff members, or the conditions of confinement for any individual or group of inmates."
Emery Nelson, a Bureau of Prisons spokesperson, instead offered a statement on how the bureau is managing COVID at federal prisons in general. "COVID-19 transmission rates among staff and inmates in the Bureau of Prisons' correctional institutions generally mirror those found in your communities. Fortunately, the BOP is using critical testing tools to help mitigate the spread of the virus. Like in every community, the number of positive cases reported in prison typically rises with increased testing (not primarily as a result of transfers between prisons). However, the majority of the BOP's positive inmates are asymptomatic and healthy. The efficacy of the BOP's mitigation strategies can be seen in the very low number of hospitalized inmates," Nelson says, noting that prison staff test and quarantine newly arriving inmates.
But something hit FCI Englewood, and fast. On November 2, the facility was reporting zero current cases among inmates. On November 12, the facility reported only four current cases among inmates. That number increased to 30 on November 24, 164 on December 2, and then hit 451 on December 8.
"It's really becoming an unmitigated disaster," says Virginia Grady, a federal public defender in Denver whose office has approximately sixty clients at FCI Englewood. "The people that they are responsible for — their care, their feeding and their health — are all locked up together with a contagion that is out of control in their facility. They're elbow to elbow."
Adds Grady, "All of the typically normal and so critically important contact with our clients has been completely truncated and diluted to practically nothing because of the virus and because of the lockdown."
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