Published on: Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The title of this post is taken from an article in the Washington Post on August 24, 2020, available here.  The article describes the Federal Bureau of Prison's response to COVID-19 as "A Complete disaster": 

Interviews with a dozen federal prison employees, prisoners, lawyers and health and legal experts who monitor correctional facilities, as well as reviews of lawsuits and petitions filed by prisoners and collected from the UCLA data project, show the ways by which the pandemic has exacerbated existing problems in federal prisons; they range from overcrowding and staff shortages to a lack of transparency around policies for personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing.

“It’s a complete disaster,” said Rob Norcross, an inmate at the minimum-security satellite camp at FCI Jesup in Georgia. The bureau’s stated guidelines about sanitization and social distancing don’t comport with reality, Norcross said: Prison camp inmates are barred from using hand sanitizer, lack cleaning supplies and have nowhere they can move to to create space.

“When it comes in, it spreads like wildfire because we can’t distance ourselves,” he said. The prison-provided PPE is of little protection, either. “They gave us non-reusable masks. I have the same masks from four-and-a-half months ago.”

Norcross told The Post he tested positive for the coronavirus in July and was quarantined in a dorm with 78 other coronavirus-positive prisoners, according to a court filing. The infection made his head “feel like bowling ball,” and he lost his sense of taste and smell to the point where he couldn’t detect a whiff of bleach.

Since recovering, Norcross wrote in petitions seeking compassionate release — he has underlying health conditions — that he has developed breathing problems and has been unable to get medical attention. An Aug. 7 appointment came and went without anyone seeing him.

Norcross’s complaints mirror those in a July report by the DOJ’s Office of Inspector General about conditions at a federal prison in Lompoc, Calif.: The OIG reported several issues, including a shortage of medical staffers to address prisoner health concerns and instances where prisoners who clearly exhibited covid-19 symptoms were not tested. The areas where the Lompoc facility scored the lowest were related to adequate PPE supply for staff and prisoners, and adequate soap or hand sanitizer for prisoners.

Now Norcross’s concern is that he could catch the virus again or die of complications from his first infection before he can go home to his family. He is still waiting for a judge to rule on his release.