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

COVID-19 cases among people being held in state prisons continued to decline this week, according to numbers released by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections on Wednesday. 

DOC is reporting just 20 active cases among prisoners being held at nine state prisons. That is down from 90 last week, and 132 the week before.  The number of DOC staff members with the virus has remained the same since last week, however, at 70.

Meanwhile, in New Orleans, cases at the city jail have spiked. In a letter on Monday to U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk, who oversees the jail’s federal consent decree, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman said that 46 detainees being held at the facility are now positive for COVID. Last week there were just 18. 

Blake Arcuri, a lawyer for the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, said that none of the cases at the jail have required hospitalization. Six housing pods in the facility are in quarantine. Among OPSO staff and OPSO contractors who work at the jail, 17 are positive for COVID-19. According to Gusman, all have been vaccinated. 

Ken Pastorick, a spokesperson for the department, said on Thursday that there were two state prisoners currently being hospitalized with the virus. In addition, he said that there had been one recent death from the virus — which occurred sometime after the department stopped publicly reporting those numbers in early July — but did not provide the prisoner’s name, date of death or the location where the prisoner was being held.

Pastorick said that only one person was being quarantined this week at Camp J at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola — a previously shuttered disciplinary camp that the department is now using to house COVID-postive people from local jails across the state. Last week there were four.

The current vaccination rate among prisoners is 73 percent, Pastorick said. 

Around half of the state’s sentenced prison population is held in local jails, but information regarding COVID-19 in those facilities has been sparse. The DOC has referred any questions regarding COVID in jails to the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, which has not responded to repeated emails and calls from The Lens since the start of the pandemic.

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

Nicholas 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...