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Inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola, participate in a class called Malachi Dads, Tuesday, October 25, 2016, a prison parenting class to help men become positive influences in their children's lives while they are incarcerated and after they're released. (Photo by Ted Jackson, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) ORG XMIT: NOLA2015061614435814

The Louisiana Department of Corrections announced Sunday its first inmate death from coronavirus since the disease started spreading through the state's prison system about three weeks ago. 

Then just hours later on Monday morning, officials revealed a second coronavirus death among corrections staff. 

The inmate was 69 years old with underlying health conditions, the department announced on its website Sunday. He was being housed at the state's Angola prison in West Feliciana Parish but died at a Baton Rouge hospital. 

"He conferred with the doctor at the hospital and requested and agreed to a do not resuscitate order," officials wrote on the website. "His family has been notified of his death."

DOC isn't releasing the man's name but said he was serving a life sentence for murder. He had been incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary since 1978, more than four decades and most of his life. 

The inmate was transferred to the hospital from Angola, which doesn't have the capacity to treat severe coronavirus symptoms, on Wednesday. He died Saturday, according to DOC.

The department released almost no details about the staff member who died, saying only that the person worked at Raymond Laborde Correctional Center in Avoyelles Parish. That marks the second death among DOC staff after an Angola employee passed away weeks earlier. 

Meanwhile the number of confirmed cases among both staff and inmates continues to climb. As of Monday morning, 77 staff and 99 inmates have tested positive across the state prison system. The worst outbreaks are at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel, B.B. "Sixty" Rayburn Correctional Center in Washington Parish and Angola. 

Some of those who tested positive have now been deemed recovered, and several inmates are being housed in "step down" facilities inside the prisons while they recover, according to DOC.

"The entire department is focused on minimizing the potential impact of this disease on our correctional system. We understand that this is a very trying time for everyone in Louisiana including our employees, prison population and their loved ones," DOC Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said in a statement. "We are making every effort to ensure that inmates in our state prisons are informed and able to remain connected to their loved ones throughout this time."

News of the first inmate death came just days after LeBlanc announced the department's limited plans to consider for release on medical furlough a small number of nonviolent inmates nearing the ends of their sentences, prioritizing those with underlying health problems that make them especially vulnerable to the effects of coronavirus.

LeBlanc estimated that only about 100 inmates serving time in state prisons would be eligible, along with more than 1000 being housed in local jails — typically those serving short sentences for minor crimes. That's out of the 32,000 people who make up Louisiana's massive state prison population, which translates into the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Inmates must be within six months of their release dates to even be considered for furlough. 

Prisoner rights advocates argue Louisiana leaders are doing too little too late, especially compared to other states where officials have taken faster and more significant action to reduce their prison populations ahead of the coronavirus threat.

LeBlanc announced last week the creation of a review panel to determine which of the eligible inmates will be released. The panel held its first meeting on Friday but officials haven't disclosed what happened and DOC claims the group is exempt from state open meetings laws. 


Email Lea Skene at lskene@theadvocate.com.