An Orleans Parish jail inmate in 2016. (Charles Maldonado/The Lens) Credit: Charles Maldonado / The Lens

The number of COVID-19 cases among people incarcerated in Louisiana state prisons has gone up nearly 150 percent since last week, according to new numbers released by the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, and eight state prisoners with the virus are currently hospitalized. 

On Wednesday morning, the department reported 132 cases among prisoners. Last week, there were just 54. The department also reported 68 cases among staff — also up from the 54 reported last week. 

Among the hospitalized prisoners, three were being held at state prisons, and five at local jails. None are currently on ventilators, according to Ken Pastorick, a spokesperson for the DOC. 

The largest outbreak continues to be at Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson, Louisiana, where there are 52 cases among prisoners and 15 among staff. The state Department of Public Safety and Corrections has said that the vaccination rate among prisoners at Dixon is 57 percent, significantly lower than the overall rate of prisoners in state facilities, which was 72 percent as of last week. The staff vaccination rate at Dixon was even lower, at 43 percent. The DOC is not currently tracking how many of the cases among prisoners and staff are “breakthrough” cases in which the infected person has been fully vaccinated, a spokesperson for the department said. 

Sheriffs from across the state also have also again started transferring COVID-positive pretrial detainees and state prisoners and who were serving their sentences at local jails to Camp J at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola — a formerly shuttered prison camp that the DOC reopened as a quarantine facility near the beginning of the pandemic. 

As of Wednesday, there were six people being held at Camp J who had been transferred from the jails in Morehouse and West Feliciana parishes, along with one prisoner who was previously being held in the Louisiana Police Barracks, a state facility in Baton Rouge, Pastorick said. That’s down from last week, when there were 11 people being held at the camp who had been transferred from three different parishes.

In New Orleans, there are still 16 people in custody at the city jail with confirmed cases of Covid-19, the same as last week, according to Blake Arcuri, a lawyer representing the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office. Arcuri said on Wednesday that four units were quarantined due to exposure to the virus, but did not immediately provide the number of detainees in quarantine. He said that none of the cases at the jail have resulted in hospitalization. 

The extent to which the virus is spreading in other local jails throughout the state is less clear, as it has been throughout the pandemic. The Louisiana Sheriff’s Association has provided some data to the Louisiana Department of Corrections regarding infections at jails throughout the state, according to a June report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, but DOC has not made the data available. According to the same report, when Gov. John Bel Edwards’ COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force surveyed all 64 sheriffs across the state regarding their response to the virus, only six responded.

Michael Ranatza, the executive director of the Sheriff’s Association, did not respond to calls or emails from The Lens. 

Nick Chrastil

Nicholas Chrastil covers criminal justice for The Lens. As a freelancer, his work has appeared in Slate, Undark, Mother Jones, and the Atavist, among other outlets. Chrastil has a master's degree in mass...