Coronavirus outbreak hits Danbury federal prison with 9 cases
The federal prison in Danbury has had an outbreak of confirmed COVID-19 cases this week and has quarantined inmates, the Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed Wednesday evening.
Nine inmates at the the low-security Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury have tested positive for the virus, a spokeswoman for the department confirmed via email. She said many more are under quarantine but declined to give a number.
On Tuesday, just four had been diagnosed, indicating a potentially rapid spread within the facility. The Federal Bureau of Prisons did not provide details about the number of inmates awaiting test results at the facility, or on the conditions of any of the affected inmates.
“It’s a really, really scary situation,” said a woman who identified herself as the fiancée of a man incarcerated at the facility since 2017.
The woman, who asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions against her fiancé, said he is part of a unit under quarantine where the outbreak occurred. She has communicated with him daily via email, as he tries not to use the phones at the facility for fear they could be contaminated with the virus.
The nine sick inmates at Danbury are among 57 federal prison inmates nationwide with the coronavirus, according to a tracker updated daily on the agency’s website. Thirty-seven staff members have been diagnosed nationally across the federal prison system, which houses roughly 175,000 inmates in facilities across the country.
The facility in Danbury houses 1,087 inmates in three units, with 756 at the largest unit, according to the website.
Connecticut’s prison system, with 12,000 inmates, reported five newly confirmed positive cases of the coronavirus at the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution in Enfield, the Department of Correction said Wednesday. All five are housed in the same building. Previously, the department reported two confirmed cases at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Uncasville.
Inmates at the Danbury prison were notified of the outbreak and subsequent quarantine at a town hall meeting with staff members at the facility Tuesday, the woman said.
“He is looking around and seeing a lot of sick people,” she said. “He noticed one of his neighbors was laying in bed with a high fever ... I’m just really worried. That facility has a large population of elderly and immunocompromised inmates, and the staff has been dismissive of the memorandum that was just sent out by Attorney General Barr.”
U.S. Attorney General William Barr, in a March 26 memo, directed the Bureau of Prisons to increase the use of home confinement for elderly and immunocompromised inmates, with priority given to inmates in low- and minimum-security facilities like FCI Danbury.
“Many inmates will be safer in BOP facilities where the population is controlled and there is ready access to doctors and medical care. But for some eligible inmates, home confinement might be more effective in protecting their health,” Barr wrote.
A spokesman for the facility in Danbury did not say whether the agency would begin releasing vulnerable inmates to home confinement.
“On March 13, 2020, the BOP instituted significant measures to prevent the COVID-19 virus from spreading in its facilities,” said Sue Allison, an agency spokeswoman. “These measures included temporary restrictions on visitation, restricting inmate movement to only required and mission-essential transfers, increased health screening of staff and inmates, and increased sanitary measures.
“In addition, all BOP facilities have been directed to designate available space for isolation and quarantine for inmates who have been exposed to or have symptoms of the virus.”
Some media coverage has suggested the federal agency is under-reporting the number of confirmed cases in prisons across the country, following a Washington Post report Sunday that a federal prison in Louisiana had positive test results for another 30 inmates and staff, despite the Bureau of Prisons tracker indicating just 27 people nationally had been diagnosed within the prison system.
Advocates have pressured Gov. Ned Lamont to release nonviolent offenders near the end of their sentences from state prisons. The governor has declined. Lamont and the state Department of Correction have no jurisdiction over the federal facility in Danbury.
“We’ve been focusing our advocates here in Connecticut on the state system, but the same concerns apply to the federal system,” said David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut.
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