Drug War

First Known Federal Inmate Dies of Coronavirus

Patrick Jones, 49, was serving a 27-year sentence for a nonviolent drug crime.


The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) confirmed late Saturday night that a federal inmate has died from COVID-19—the first known death of an inmate in the federal prison system.

Reuters reports that Patrick Jones, 49, an inmate at a low-security federal prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, died from complications after contracting COVID-19. According to the latest numbers from the BOP, 14 inmates and 13 staff members are infected with the virus.

Civil liberties groups, criminal justice advocates, and families of inmates have been begging the Justice Department to get elderly and at-risk inmates out of federal prisons, saying the effects of outbreaks inside prison walls could be catastrophic. There are roughly 20,000 inmates over the age of 55 in the federal prison system.

On Thursday, Attorney General William Barr announced that he was directing the Bureau of Prisons to expand home confinement for at-risk inmates, but civil liberties groups say the Justice Department guidelines will exclude wide swaths of inmates.

"A prison sentence should not become a death sentence," Udi Ofer, director of the American Civil Liberties Union justice division, said in a press release today. "The conditions and reality of incarceration make prisons and jails tinderboxes for the spread of disease. Our leaders must immediately take steps to release those identified by the CDC as most vulnerable to COVID-19. With every hour of inaction that passes, the greater the human tragedy."

Jones' death is a grim portent, but how he ended up in prison also tells a story about the innumerable failures of the drug war and the criminal justice system.

Jones was sentenced in 2007 to 27 years in federal prison for possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of a junior college.

According to an October letter from Alison Looman, a lawyer who assisted Jones in preparing a 2016 clemency petition, Jones "essentially raised himself on the streets, without family support."

"A product of incest, his grandmother died when he was 6 and he shuffled between relatives and the street for the rest of his childhood (in one painful chapter, his mom kicked him out when he was 11)," Looman wrote.

In 2007, Jones and his wife were both charged by federal prosecutors with possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute after a police officer found several bags of the drug in their apartment in Temple, Texas.

Jones' wife pleaded guilty. Jones, on the other hand, took his case to trial and lost. He was sentenced to 360 months in federal prison under a drug-free school zone enhancement. (These zones often apply in private residences, whether or not school is in session or minors are involved.)

As Reason has reported, drug-free school zone charges are rarely used in actual cases of dealing drugs to minors. Rather, they're used by prosecutors as leverage to squeeze guilty pleas out of defendants, and as punishment when a defendant turns down a deal and invokes his or her constitutional right to a jury trial.

Jones' wife, who testified against him, received a significant downward departure from federal sentencing guidelines and was sentenced to three years in prison. Although police only found 21 grams of cocaine in their apartment, Jones was ultimately sentenced for 425 grams of sales based on her testimony.

Defense attorneys and civil liberties groups call this phenomenon "the trial penalty" and attribute the extraordinary decline in criminal trials to it. In federal courts, more than 95 percent of all criminal cases end in plea deals.

There is no parole in the federal prison system, and, buried under a nearly 30-year-sentence, Jones didn't have many legal escape hatches left. He applied for clemency under Barack Obama's large-scale clemency initiative, which was intended to grant relief to federal inmates serving long sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, but he was one of thousands of inmates whose petitions were denied.

Another glimmer of hope appeared in late 2018, when Congress passed the FIRST STEP Act, a criminal justice reform bill that made reductions to crack cocaine sentences retroactive.

Jones was eligible and applied for a sentence reduction. "His primary goal in requesting a sentencing reduction is to try and be there for his son, who he has not seen or been able to provide support for since his son was three years old," his petition said.

However, federal prosecutors opposed Jones' petition, and a judge denied it in December, citing Jones' criminal history—a non-violent burglary spree when he was 17 years old and a single arrest for three drug sales to an undercover police officer.

There were many points along the way in Jones' case where a small deviation in the way the criminal justice system normally operates could have possibly led to a different outcome, but that didn't happen.

On March 11, Jones filed an appeal of the denial of his petition for a sentence reduction. Eight days later, he was transported to a local hospital with a persistent cough. Nine days after that, he was dead.

NEXT: Christopher Preble Says Killing Soleimani Didn't Make America Safer

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  1. Unfortunately, people die of illnesses contracted in prison every single day, the health care there is simply not a priority.

    1. He was faking it

      PS. Day 5 of a full on whole country lockdown here in NZ.

      1. I’m feeling enough solidarity that I’m just going to say “hang in there,” and not make any inappropriate jokes about the sheep being lonely or whatever, which I might have done in less troubled times.

  2. Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time….

    1. Please kill yourself. *I get it now.

      1. Not well enough to do it though.

    2. What constitutional federal crime did he break? The commerce clause… Or was it asking for a Jury Trial. How does one person get 3 years and the other 27 for the same crime… that is a big penalty for asking for a Jury Trial.

      1. You know what Barrie, the fact is – the case was adjudicated, the sentence was meted out. That is how it works.

        Don’t deal drugs to children is the proper lesson to take away.

  3. First known death of a federal inmate versus the death of the first known federal inmate – somebody should teach the headline writer something about phrasing.

    1. To be fair, the first known federal inmate is also dead.

      1. How are you so sure? Do you have the death certificate?

        The long-form certificate, that is, not the obviously-fake short form.

  4. Look, the guy’s sentence sucked and it’s bullshit that they can leverage a quarter-century disparity in imprisonment to get him with his wife’s testimony. And, from the limited information in the article, it seems he could’ve been a good candidate to have his sentence reduced (but DOJ going to DOJ I guess).
    Having said that…
    “There were many points along the way in Jones’ case where a small deviation in the way the criminal justice system normally operates could have possibly led to a different outcome, but that didn’t happen.”
    There were also many points along the way in Jones’ case where a small deviation in the way Jones normally behaved and the choices he normally made could have possibly led to a different outcome.
    What the fuck hope, or logic, does libertarianism have if it rejects personal responsibility the way progressives do?

    1. What the fuck hope, or logic, does libertarianism have if it rejects personal responsibility the way progressives do?

      The drug war is a violent racist violation of our constitutional rights from beginning to end. what does personal responsibility have to do with being a victim of tyranny?

      1. He knew what the game was bruh.

        1. irrelevant. It’s tyranny whether or not you comply. He didn’t comply, and you have. Doesn’t change the fact that it’s tyranny.

          1. NOT irrelevant.

            The money is big because the risk is big. He could have delivered pizza.

            He made a cost benefit analysis.

      2. Your mom is racist

    2. So… he’s caught. His wife is going to testify against him… they are throwing the book at him…

      And he still thinks he’s going to do better than the plea deal?

      Did he not have an attorney to explain it to him? Did he somehow think he was going to skate? This is no “factually innocent” case – and his own wife took a deal to testify against him. How the hell did they think that going to trial was going to help?

  5. Absolutely disgusting. The drug war is a shame that our time and place in history will never be forgiven for, similar to slavery for 19th century peoples.

  6. Jones’ wife, who testified against him…

    What a self-serving cunt. I mean wife. I mean woman. But I repeat myself.

    1. I love when you give us insight on why you’re divorced.

      1. I love it when you make personal attacks and name yourself after me like a creepy stalker.

        1. Awww I hit a nerve! Like the entire world full of women you think are all cunts have apparently.

          1. he’s still mad you wouldn’t go out with him

            1. Naw. I was just giving my creepy stalker an opportunity to pretend to be a human being.

              1. Right but you asked me out and I turned you down. You’re that guy.

                1. I gave a creepy stalker who named itself after me an opportunity to pretend to be a human being.

                  1. You got butthurt because I wouldn’t go out on a date with you.

                    1. It’s creepy but true.

                      Poor sarcasmic doesn’t realize that TDS has turned him into Hicklib lite.

            2. Yeah he’s gotta gaslight me because I shut him down. It’s one of the more embarassing ploys he’s failed at. After his wife left him for bigger and better you’d think he’d be used to rejection tho.

              1. I love it when you make personal attacks and name yourself after me like a creepy stalker.

                1. You got divorced bro, you should be over it by now not crying about personal attacks over something that actually happened.

                  “RECOUNTING MY LIFE IS A PERSONAL ATTACK!!!WAHHHH!!!” – sarcasmic

                  I mean fuck if SIMPLY DUSCUSSING YOUR LIFE is a personal attack, you have completely fucked up as a human.

                  Now gaslight harder because I wouldn’t go out with you.

                  1. Recounting me personal life is creepy. Only a creepy stalker would remember details like that, keep bringing them up, and then name itself after me and Sparky for my offering him to join us on a guy’s night out including a rock concert.

                    Dude, you’re a creepy stalker.

                    1. Bro you tried to set up a three way with me you and sparky, then lost your mind when I said no.

                    2. If you think that any guy who makes an attempt to be nice to you wants to have sex with you then you’ve got some really serious issues. Sounds like narcissism to me. You should seek professional help.

                      That’s my last comment tonight. Have fun being a creepy, narcissistic stalker.

                    3. It’s not what I think.

                      You asked me out and I said no. You lost your mind. Its right here in black and white.

                      And of course you’d minimize it and attack me. You’re embarassed because you got rejected and you have poor socialization.

                      I don’t mind. But man, come on, have some god damned decorum.

                    4. Poor Sarcasmic, always a bridesmaid, never a bride. If it makes you feel better, I don’t give a shit about any aspect of your life.

    2. Ok, I don’t wanna get involved in the casmic battle here, but you just called all women cunts.

      Dude. You got issues.

  7. Says the humorless, creepy stalker who named itself after me.

    1. That was for my creepy stalker’s 4:31 comment.

      1. That you asked out, and who turned you down, and who you just double posted at.

        1. I gave you, a creepy stalker who named itself after me, an opportunity to pretend to be a human being.

          1. You tried to fuck me, I said no thanks, and you started crying immediately after.

            1. LMAO! Yeah! I invited you to join myself and at least one other guy (trying to recruit more) because I wanted to fuck you at the Boston House of Blues while Ministry was on stage!

              I’ve got better things to do than roll in the mud with a pig.


              1. No matter how much you neg me Serg, the answer is still NO I won’t date you. And no, I won’t have a lucky pierre with you and sparky either.

              2. I knew it. Faggot. Wear your scarlet letter forever swish.

              3. ” I invited you to join myself and at least one other guy (trying to recruit more) because I wanted to fuck you at the Boston House of Blues”

                Sarcasmic is Tony?

              4. Ministry is still out there? I’ll be damned!

                1. They have to work for love.

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  8. I’m all for decriminalization, but the fact is that a prison sentence doesn’t come with a promise of getting out. Even the shortest sentence can turn out to be a life sentence if the cards don’t go your way.

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  10. “A product of incest”

    Poor bastard. That’s a hell of a thing to have written about you in the news story about your passing.

    1. When you think about it, it’s a really depressing story.

      Not only what happened to this guy, but the possibility of the disease spreading in and out of prison.

  11. I was able to find the Reuters story, but not by clicking your link, which went to the NY Times, which presented me with a paywall.

    Incidentally, aren’t *some* news companies providing free access to their articles about the pestilence?

    1. this is a good point…. unless it is an exclusive story, how about a paywall free link?

  12. I hope Joe Biden sends his family a sympathy card at the very least. He is responsible for these draconian sentences.

  13. A guy gets suck in prison and dies just like a lot of people outside of prison. Happens everyday of every year. So what?

    1. That depends…was he peculiarly vulnerable to this infection in prison?

      Now, it may well be that there are more restrictive means of protecting prisoners from this virus.

      Or even if there’s increased risk to a prisoner unless he’s released, the nature of his offense may make it undesirable to release a person early into the public.

      I hope the authorities will at least consider such matters – possibly furloughing some of the old and weak prisoners into halfway houses or isolated areas if they’re really at risk.

      But bear in mind I’m not a penologist or a penological doctor, and in these rapidly evolving situations I’m not sure if I know enough to pronounce confidently on all of this.

      But my instinct is to say that if some nonviolent offender is old or sick, and not inclined to wander around endangering the broader public, they might be put into a safer environment. This would be in the nature of a furlough, ending when the virus is more under control and they can be put back in prison.

      I’m not saying use this as a shortcut to Criminal Justice Reform and just let them out altogether.

      1. From what I’ve been hearing on measures taken to protect prisoners. He was probably a bit safer in prison than out of it right now.

        In the end though, the only you could do to make them completely safe (Put everyone in lockdown with only delivered meals) would be a violation of their human rights for the time period it would take to ensure safety.

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  16. While it sucks that he died in prison, and did so while succumbing to the coronavirus, unfortunately some prisoners die while incarcerated. Yes his sentence was outrageous, yes it was probably over the top, and yes he didn’t deserve to die. But all of the inmates, be it a 21 year old, a 45 year old, or a 80 year old, they were all convicted and sentenced to be incarcerated. It’s BS to let inmates over 50 years old out just because of the virus. If a prison sentence shouldn’t mean a death sentence, then NO ONE should be locked up, because stabbings, beatings, sickness can all kill an inmate.

  17. So let out 20,000 potentially sick individuals to spread it all over? And where do they go, exactly? Does the government all get them hotel rooms?

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  20. Abolish all drug-war laws, let all non-violent offenders out of jail, expunge their records (of those “crimes”), and pay them reparations.

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