Apr 15, 2020 - Health

DOJ watchdog reviews federal prison conditions amid surge in coronavirus cases

In this image, a cross is made in the shape of

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Justice Department's inspector general is remotely assessing federal prisons to determine whether the coronavirus is being properly mitigated, according to the watchdog's website.

The big picture: Federal and state prisons have acted as petri dishes for the virus in the U.S., as overcrowded and often unsanitary conditions can make social distancing and recommended hygiene nearly impossible for inmates.

Driving the news: Several state-run jails have released prisoners to fight the spread of the coronavirus. In contrast, one effort taken by the Bureau of Prisons to slow the spread is mandating that all inmates be "secured in their assigned cells" until May 18.

  • Chicago's Cook County jail — a state-run facility — is the largest-known source of coronavirus infections in the U.S., the New York Times reported last week.

What they're saying: “The Bureau of Prisons is working hard to prevent, contain, and mitigate the spread of this global pandemic in its correctional settings, and we look forward to the OIG’s assessment of these efforts,” Bureau spokesperson Justin Long told AP in a statement.

The bottom line: 446 federal inmates and 248 employees from the Bureau of Prisons have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, and 14 inmates have died.

Go deeper: Coronavirus behind bars

Go deeper