The Orleans Justice Center. (Michael Isaac Stein/The Lens)

The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections is reporting 90 active cases of COVID-19 among people incarcerated in state prisons this week. That number is down from 132 reported last week. DOC is also reporting 70 active cases among DOC staff, which is two more than the department reported last week.

The largest outbreak among prisoners remains at Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson, where there are currently 30 cases of COVID among the incarcerated population, in addition to seven among staff. At the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, there are 23 cases among prisoners and 30 among staff. 

Last week, there were eight state prisoners who had been hospitalized due to the virus. Three of them were being held in state facilities and five at local jails. On Wednesday, Ken Pastorick, a spokesperson for the DOC, said there were no longer any prisoners from state facilities who were hospitalized, but did not provide an update on DOC prisoners who were being held in local jails. 

Pastorick said that four people previously incarcerated in local jails are currently being held at Camp J at Angola — a former disciplinary camp that is now being used as a quarantine facility. That number is down from six last week.

The total number of deaths among COVID-positive prisoners since the beginning of the pandemic is now 37, Pastorick said Wednesday.

According to Pastorick, the overall vaccination rate among prisoners being held at DOC facilities is 71 percent. The vaccination rate among staff at those facilities is 52 percent, he said, but noted that the “number reflects only staff currently employed with the DOC who either received the vaccination at the DOC, which is automatically reported to the Department, or received it from their primary care physician, a pharmacy, or other vaccination event and choose to report their vaccination to the Department.”

“Staff are encouraged to report, but cannot be required,” Pastorick said. “The vaccination is voluntary.”

In New Orleans, Sheriff Marlin Gusman told the federal judge overseeing the jail’s federal consent decree in a letter on Monday that there were 18 people with known positive COVID cases in custody at the city jail. That is two more than the 16 reported last week. In addition, 19 jail staff and contractors were positive for the virus — all of whom have been vaccinated, Gusman said. He said staff from Ochsner Health System was on-site at the jail to conduct mass testing of the in-custody population. Blake Arcuri, a lawyer for the Sheriff’s office, said that none of the infected detainees has been hospitalized. 

Gusman told the judge that the jail has vaccinated 768 people in their custody — not including people who were already vaccinated when they entered the jail.

It is less clear what is happening in other local jails throughout the state. The Louisiana Sheriff’s Association has provided the state with some information on infections and vaccinations at local jails, according to a June report by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, but that information has not been publicly reported. Michael Ranatza, the executive director of the association, did not return calls from The Lens on Wednesday. 

This story has been updated with additional information from the Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

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...