LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – California Senator Kamala Harris is demanding answers into the COVID-19 outbreak at the Terminal Island federal prison.
Investigative reporter David Goldstein broke the story of hundreds of inmates testing positive and says the senator questioned the warden about how it could happen.
Harris told Warden Felicia Ponce she didn’t think the facility was prepared for the virus.
They spoke by phone and got the warden to agree to allow inmates to call loved ones – something that hasn’t been allowed since the outbreak began.
Jackie Vasquez hasn’t talked with her brother Edgar for three weeks. He’s serving a drug sentence in Terminal Island, where more than half of the inmates have tested positive for COVID-19.
“I’m going to tell him everything we’ve been doing, that we’re his voice and trying to reach out to the warden and address these issues,” she said.
The facility is a low-security prison. Officials have set up temporary barracks to separate the sick.
So far, 644 inmates have tested positive, the second-most of any federal prison in the country. Fifteen staff members have tested positive, that’s also the second-most. Six inmates have died.
Harris told Ponce she thought they were unprepared for the outbreak and said the warden should be pushing to release low-security inmates to home confinement, including the elderly and those with preexisting conditions – something Vasquez says she wants for her brother.
“I contacted the public defender and he’s working on that to see if my brother would qualify for home confinement or compassionate release,” she said.
Officials say more than 2,000 prisoners nationwide have been released to home confinement because of COVID-19, but they won’t say how many from Terminal Island.
Elected officials have been critical, saying more should be moved out to stop the spread of the virus.