Why More Than Half Of Terminal Island's Inmates Have Coronavirus

(Erik Mclean/Unsplash)

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There are 1,055 inmates in the Terminal Island federal prison in San Pedro. As of Wednesday, 570 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19. Two inmates have died, and 10 staff have also tested positive.

The number of cases is far more than at any other federal prison, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons online tracker.

The numbers are so large at Terminal Island at least in part because the L.A. County Department of Public Health started testing all local inmates on April 23.

The Bureau of Prisons says the vast majority of those with the virus have not developed any symptoms.


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"Social distancing inside a prison is difficult to achieve," Bureau spokesman Justin Long told us in an emailed statement.

He said the Terminal Island facility has placed over 200 beds in alternative housing to make more space.

"On the prison grounds, inmates are being housed in multiple temperature-controlled field living quarters" provided by the Coast Guard, Long said. The prison's industry factory and visiting room have been repurposed for inmate housing as well.

The prison has suspended inmates' use of telephone and email stations until May 18, and has suspended visitation "until further notice." The Bureau of Prisons is encouraging family and friends to communicate through snail mail.

With the surge in COVID-19 cases at some prisons, the Bureau of Prisons says it's reviewing all inmates who have COVID-19 risk factors to see who's suitable for home confinement. It's not clear if anyone at the Terminal Island facility has qualified for this measure.

"I think that's exactly the kind of thing they should be doing," said Peter Eliasberg, chief counsel for the ACLU of Southern California. "The problem is the numbers; they're doing far too little at far too slow a pace."

The state "has an obligation ... to reasonably guarantee" the health and safety of jail and prison inmates, he said. "And that's not happening — it can't happen — in the current conditions in jails and prisons."

Eliasberg is the lead ACLU attorney in a lawsuit that seeks early release for vulnerable inmates in L.A. County jails and juvenile facilities.