Federal prisons plagued by COVID-19 infections as plans for vaccine distribution develop

Chicago criminals ask for sentences to be cut short, point to COVID-19 as reason

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Ross Weidner via WLS logo
Saturday, November 28, 2020
EMBED <>More Videos

According to a memo obtained by ABC News and the AP, prison staff will be prioritized for the first BOP vaccine distribution.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As COVID-19 surges, with social distancing almost impossible behind bars, there continues to be a high price paid by those inside jails and prisons-thousands of inmates, officers and other staff members.

Now, a memo obtained by ABC News and reported by the AP reveals that federal prison staffers will be among the first government employees to receive vaccines under the administration's Operation Warp Speed.

Mob superboss John Gotti and Chicago gang lord Jeff Fort are among the crime luminaries that made Marion prison in Illinois infamous. Now the greatest danger there may not be an inmate, but rather an intruder: COVID-19. The Marion U.S. Penitentiary in Southern Illinois is now the third most infected federal prison in America, having jumped from 8th place in just a few weeks. According to newly-released data from the Bureau of Prisons, 224 inmates and 10 staff members are currently positive for the coronavirus at Marion.

Nationwide, 4179 inmates are current COVID-positive along with 1,325 staff positive, numbers that have jumped in recent days. 145 federal inmates deaths have been reported since the pandemic began and two Bureau of Prison staff deaths. At the federal lock up in downtown Chicago almost ten percent of the inmate population tonight is infected: 57 prisoners and 21 staff--24th worst in the country.

The new numbers come as the nation's prison system prepares to be among the first government agencies to receive COVID-19 vaccines. According to a memo obtained by ABC News and the AP, prison staff will be prioritized for the first BOP vaccine distribution.

A BOP spokesman tells ABC News:

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a public-private partnership established by the federal government, known as Operation Warp Speed (OWS), to ensure the BOP is prepared to receive the COVID-19 Vaccine once it becomes available. We have no further information to provide at this time.

As the virus rages, some well-known Chicago criminals scramble to get out early from their federal prison sentences. Among them, notorious Chicago mob boss Michael Sarno. The Outfit leader, formerly known as "Fat Boy" lost a court bid in September for "compassionate release." Sarno's attorney is citing the prisoner's rapidly declining health and susceptibility to contracting COVID. In a new filing for release tonight, he writes, "release is an emergency matter as such a nature that the delay in hearing would result in serious irreparable harm, and potentially the death of Mr. Sarno."