The first federal prisoner in the U.S. to die from coronavirus was locked up on nonviolent drug charges, NBC News reports.
Patrick Jones, a 49-year-old inmate in a low-security penitentiary in Oakdale, Louisiana, was serving his 13th year of a 27-year prison sentence when he contracted the coronavirus and died. Jones was sentenced in 2009 on drug charges after police found 9 grams of crack and 21 grams of cocaine in his Temple, Texas home.
In the months before his death, Jones penned a letter to U.S. District Judge Alan Albright requesting a sentence reduction. “I feel that my conviction and sentence was also a punishment that my child has had to endure also and there are no words for how remorseful I am,” Jones wrote. “Years of ‘I am sorry’ don’t seem to justify the absence of a father or the chance of having purpose in life by raising my child.”
His request was denied on February 22 and he died from coronavirus twenty-two days later.
“He spent the last 12 years contesting a sentence that ultimately killed him. Ironically, it seems it is his death that might finally bring his case some attention.” — Alison Looman, a New York lawyer who had represented Jones
Jones was the first prisoner coronavirus casualty in the U.S. but there have been — and will be — others. The Oakdale prison where he was located has been the hardest hit in the country: at least five inmates there have perished from the disease, and there are so many prisoners suffering symptoms of the virus that officials have stopped testing presumed cases.
On Friday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr ordered the expansion of early release practices for federal prisoners in response to the virus’ rapid spread through the U.S. prison system.
Want to help? Cannabis activists at the Last Prisoner Project have been advocating for the early release of elderly and low-risk prisoners amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Visit the LPP resource page now to sign a petition for the emergency release of prisoners, donate to the emergency COVID-19 relief fund, and find resources for contacting your local and state officials.
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