Louisiana inmate work program suspended amid virus cases

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The Louisiana Department of Corrections has suspended a work program that places inmates in the state Capitol building after two inmates tested positive for the coronavirus amid a surge in cases at the prison where they are incarcerated.

The inmates from the Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson began showing symptoms of COVID-19 on Monday and tested positive for the virus Tuesday, Department of Corrections spokesman Ken Pastorick said in a statement. They were placed in medical isolation.

The inmates are part of a crew of workers bused about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south to Baton Rouge to clean, cook and perform landscaping in the Capitol and other state buildings.

The Corrections Department tested 171 other inmates who live or work alongside the two that tested positive. Those inmates were quarantined pending their results.

State data show that nearly 400 inmates at Dixon Correctional currently have the coronavirus. The facility has performed about 1,200 tests total since it began its mass testing program this summer, and nearly 550 inmates have tested positive overall.

Louisiana State Police also houses about 140 prisoners at a facility in Zachary, with about 30 inmates performing custodial duties, landscaping and grounds work at the governor’s mansion and other state offices, State Police spokesman Doug Cain said. That program was still operating as of Thursday.

The inmates in the programs make between 4 and 70 cents an hour or credit toward early release for their work, and some lawmakers have criticized the use of cheap inmate labor at state-owned buildings, The Advocate reported.

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