As of May 11, 2020, at 6:30 PM, the Winn Correctional Center (WCC) in Winnfield, LA, has 20 detainees that have tested positive for COVID-19, according to ice.gov. The website also states that there are no U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) employees working at WCC that have tested positive for the virus. It is important to note that most people working at WCC do not work directly for ICE but instead are employed by the Winn Parish Sheriff’s Office (WPSO). Therefore the total number of employees that have tested positive for the virus is unknown as neither ICE nor WPSO has released full statistics for guards. Two guards at the Richwood Correctional Center in Monroe, Louisiana, which is also an ICE detainee facility, died after contracting the coronavirus. According to reports, families of both guards believe they contracted the virus working at the Richwood facility.
On April 1, 2020, the Winn Parish Journal reported that several advocacy groups wrote letters to Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf on behalf of detainees. The letter included troubling reports that “Winn Correctional Center staff have not taken the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of Coronavirus inside the facility.” As well as “staff had not addressed COVID-19 concerns with immigrant detainees, including failing to instruct detainees on hand washing and social distancing.” The letter also indicated hand sanitizer was “not available.” “Social distancing at Winn is virtually impossible,” read the letter. “Winn is primed to have COVID-19 spread through the detained population like wildfire. It will be devastating and deadly to the detainees as well as the correctional officers who are exposed and then go home to families and out into the community. Medically vulnerable detainees, and those who are otherwise immunocompromised, should be released immediately,” the letter demanded.
Hunger strikes and other protests are taking place in detention centers across the country due to detainees COVID-19 concerns, and detainees at the WCC were recently pepper-sprayed during a riot at the facility.
In a statement to WPJ, ICE said it was following guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to screen and isolate any detainee who shows symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and then referred all other questions to the for-profit private company that runs the facility, Ruston-based LaSalle Corrections and the Winn Parish Sheriff’s Office that is contracted to manage it. Neither organization responded to multiple inquiries regarding confirmed detainee and WCC employee cases.
You can review ICE reported case numbers here: https://www.ice.gov/coronavirus