In A Flash

Louisiana shifts prison work crew schedules in government office buildings over Delta surge

By: - July 27, 2021 7:24 pm
Louisiana inmate taking out the trash

An inmate takes out the trash at the Department of Corrections headquarters in downtown Baton Rouge. (Photo provided by Louisiana Department of Corrections)

The schedules for prison work crews who clean Louisiana state government office buildings in downtown Baton Rouge has been altered because of the threat of the Delta variant of COVID-19. There is also a possible COVID-19 outbreak at the prison where the crews usually live.

Incarcerated people who typically clean Baton Rouge state offices are now being asked to work at night — as opposed to during the day — so that they can limit contact with the state employees who work in those buildings. The prisoners who work in the Louisiana Capitol Cafeteria have been pulled completely from their work assignments — causing the restaurant to temporarily shut down.

These work crews come from one prison, Dixon Correctional Institute, where there may be an outbreak of COVID-19. There are 45 incarcerated people across the state’s eight prisons who recently tested positive for COVID-19 — and 43 of them are housed at Dixon, said Ken Pastorick, spokesman for the prison system.

In the general population, the Delta variant is ripping through Louisiana and, on Tuesday, caused the biggest single-day increase in Louisiana COVID-19 hospital stays since April of 2020. Most of the infected people needing hospital care and at risk of dying are not vaccinated against the virus, according to the hospitals.

Incarcerated people in Louisiana’s prisons are vaccinated at a higher rate — 68 percent — than the state’s general population, but they are also particularly vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19.

Most incarcerated people live in open-air dormitories with dozens of others. They also shower, eat and exercise in large groups. It is difficult — and often impossible — to keep six feet of distance from each other.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the state also pulled incarcerated work crews from downtown Baton Rouge and deployed more of them to work at night. Last year, the work crews cleaning state office buildings were placed in dormitory together and their contact with the rest of the Dixon prison population was restricted — to limit exposure to the virus.

The state government is heavily dependent on prison labor. Under normal circumstances, 95 incarcerated people from Dixon clean the downtown government buildings in Baton Rouge and Louisiana Capitol every weekday. Additional incarcerated people assist with landscaping and facility cleaning at the Louisiana State Police headquarters, Department of Public Safety and Corrections headquarters and the governor’s mansion.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.