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Department of Justice looks into Lompoc Federal Prison's response to COVID-19 outbreak

Posted at 6:11 PM, Jul 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-24 22:43:48-04

A shortage of medical staff, ineffective screening processes, and lack of permanent leadership -- just some of the findings from a federal investigation into the Lompoc Federal Prison's (FCC Lompoc) response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

From April 23 to May 1, the Department of Justice (DOJ) conducted a remote inspection of FCC Lompoc to understand how the pandemic affected the complex and how prison officials prepared for, prevented, and managed the spread of COVID-19 within the facility.

According to federal officials, FCC Lompoc's policies and practices were taken into consideration to see if they complied with the practices of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As of May 11, more than 75% of inmates and 8% of staff tested positive for the novel virus, according to the report.

The Office of the Inspector General found:

  • an insufficient number of correctional staff members delayed modified operations
  • a lack of permanent leadership
  • an ineffective screening process of employees and inmates
  • a need for more PPE and face coverings

They said the biggest challenge in preventing the spread of the virus was a preexisting shortage of medical staff.

In the report, officials found "two staff members who came to work in late March after experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and whose symptoms were not detected in the screening process to preclude them from working."

In addition, federal officials noted that Lompoc Prison staff did not seek testing or isolation of an inmate who reported COVID-19-like symptoms on March 22 and who had been examined on four separate days between March 22 and 26. That inmate wasn't tested until March 27 and received positive results March 30, according to the report.

"These findings must be placed in context, as these were unique circumstances where the BOP, along with the rest of the country, was learning about how to treat and manage this novel virus," said Emery Nelson, a BOP spokesperson.

In a response sent to KSBY News, BOP officials said 40 additional medical staff and 131 additional staff were deployed after identifying the outbreak.

As far as leadership goes, the BOP said when the Warden’s position became vacant in January 2020, every acting Complex Warden had more than 20 years of correctional experience.

Prison officials also added that there has never been a shortage of PPE or hygiene supplies at Lompoc, but did note that "Proactively distributing face coverings, was not a proven, evidence-based strategy at a time when PPE resources were extremely limited across the country and face coverings were being used as contingency PPE. The day the CDC’s guidance on face coverings changed, FCC Lompoc distributed two surgical masks to all inmates and staff."

"Lompoc officials took significant measures to protect the safety and security of all staff, inmates, and members of the public. The mitigation of COVID-19 in all of our facilities, including FCC Lompoc, has been and remains our highest priority," Nelson said.

You can read the full Department of Justice inspection report by clicking here.