Coronavirus

The First Federal Female Inmate To Die of COVID-19

Andrea Circle Bear was serving a 2-year sentence for a nonviolent drug crime.

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Andrea Circle Bear, 30, is the first female federal inmate to die of COVID-19. She passed away several weeks after being placed on a ventilator and having an emergency cesarean section to deliver her baby.

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced Thursday that Circle Bear had succumbed to complications from the virus, making her the 29th federal inmate to die of COVID-19. The virus has killed 30 federal inmates so far, and 1,314 have tested positive for it.

According to federal court records, Circle Bear was arrested for selling two grams of methamphetamine to a confidential informant out of a residence in the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. She pleaded guilty to maintaining a drug-involved premises and was sentenced to 26 months in federal prison. 

Circle Bear's sentencing documents say that the judge recommended her for the BOP's substance abuse treatment program. Because she was pregnant, she was sent to FMC Carswell, a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, for inmates with medical needs.

On March 28, a little more than a week after she arrived in federal prison, Circle Bear was sent to a local hospital because of potential complications with her pregnancy. She was released the same day, but several days later she reported to prison medical staff with a fever and dry cough. She was transported back to the local hospital and placed on a ventilator. Her baby was delivered via cesarean section on April 1.

The Washington Post reports that her child is now in the care of her family in South Dakota.

In a press release today, Kevin Ring, president of the criminal justice advocacy group FAMM, called Circle Bear's death "a national disgrace." FAMM is also calling for an immediate Justice Department investigation into her death.

"Not every prison death is avoidable, but Andrea Circle Bear's certainly seems to have been — she simply should not have been in a federal prison under these circumstances," Ring said. "In fact, nothing better demonstrates our mindless addiction to punishment more than the fact that, in the midst of a global pandemic, our government moved a 30-year-old, COVID-vulnerable pregnant woman not to a hospital or to her home, but to a federal prison."

None of the federal inmates who have died from COVID-19 were sentenced to death. Many were serving drug sentences. As Reason reported, the first federal inmate to die of COVID-19 was serving a 27-year sentence for a crack cocaine offense.

According to the BOP, Circle Bear had a preexisting medical condition that the CDC lists as risk factor for developing a more severe COVID-19 disease. Neither the South Dakota town she lived near or the surrounding county has had a positive COVID-19 case.

Many prisons and jails across the country have taken unprecedented measures to reduce their populations in response to the pandemic, halting intake of new inmates and releasing others deemed low-risk. In late March, U.S. Attorney General William Barr issued a directive to the BOP to identify and release elderly and at-risk inmates who met certain criteria, either through an early transfer into home confinement or through a policy called compassionate release.

So far, the BOP says it's released 1,751 inmates into home confinement. But the rollout of Barr's directive has been hamstrung by contradictions and confusion.

An unusual alliance of civil liberties groups and correctional officers unions has been warning that these measures won't be nearly enough to protect staff and inmates inside the crowded and filthy conditions that prevail in jails and prisons across the country. 

They are unfortunately being proven right.

According to data from The New York Times, eight of the 10 biggest COVID-19 clusters in the U.S. are connected to jails or prisons.

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  1. If it saves just one life… amirite?

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  2. Don’t wanna die of coronavirus like a thug, don’t maintain a drug-involved premises like a thug.

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    2. Really? I hope you are just kidding.

  3. Serving time for a non-violent drug crime means what? I get confused, as what she did, what she was charged with, and what she was convicted of are three different things. And often don’t match reality (which is a damning state of affairs altogether).

    But using the ‘serving time for a non-violent crime’ to garner, what? Sympathy for the deceased is annoying. What if is were a non-violent financial fraud (stealing life savings from at risk seniors). Would the death be more or less sad?

    1. But using the ‘serving time for a non-violent crime’ to garner, what? Sympathy for the deceased is annoying. What if is were a non-violent financial fraud (stealing life savings from at risk seniors). Would the death be more or less sad?

      Apparently, you can’t hear the dog whistle. They said non-violent *drug* crime. So, likely possession or trafficking or similar. Sure, she could’ve been getting seniors addicted to swindle them out of their retirement or selling poisoned weed to school children, but the point is what you said but cut short, the crime, charge, conviction, and punishment are inconsistent.

      1. Okay, what about a non violent drug user dying in a nursing home?
        Or on a beach?
        Or living in the Ritz-Carlton Penthouse?

        It is sad that a drug user died. That’s what makes it a story?

    2. Last I saw something like 50,000 people have died of this stuff and none of them except for this woman were federal prisoners. Why this death is somehow more notable than others or any more of a tragedy is mystery known only to the author.

      What does the author want to happen? Should we just empty all the prisons out over this? If not, then what the hell is his point?

    3. I firmly believe that those convicted of non-violent crimes do NOT belong in prison. Ever.

  4. People die in prison from the Kungflu and outside of prison they have died from the Kungflu either way and in this case she may have even brought it in herself. I see no need for an article about this death. Her death is no more interesting than anyone elses

    1. Napkin math says 100 people died in prison this week (~17K between 2007 and 2010), almost 400 since Bear started showing symptoms but fuck those assholes, this inmate had COVID, a vagina, and a kid!

  5. It’s high time we list the name of every American who ever dies anywhere of anything. We’re not scared enough.

  6. Andrea Circle Bear, 30, is the first female federal inmate to die of COVID-19. She passed away several weeks after being placed on a ventilator and having an emergency cesarean section to deliver her baby.

    The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced Thursday that Circle Bear had succumbed to complications from the virus, making her the 29th federal inmate to die of COVID-19.

    Contracted the virus, had a cesarean, and died weeks later on a ventilator? Even then she’s the first to die?

    If I know Reason (drink), and I think I do, ENB’s got a shitty “Prison is disproportionately harder on women.” article in the wings for later today.

  7. Men, under represented again. Perhaps if more were incarcerated then they could finally lead the country in something that really matters.

  8. COVID has an incubation time of up to 14 days so I don’t think you can be sure she contracted it in prison.

  9. mad.casual for congress! .. progs are gross. Nice day :D.

  10. Federal inmates not immortal, news at 11.

  11. Chicken or egg causality dilemma. Are women of the left: ugly, angry and thus, leftist (heedless buffoons) .. or leftist, angry, and thus, ugly? Again, half a truth is better than no politics (gkc).

  12. Whooooooooooooooooooo cares?

  13. Don’t do the crime if’n you can’t out live the time. Don’t do it.
    See what gubmint healthcare will get ya and the state was directly responsible for her welfare.

  14. Are we going to get an article on the first gay to die in prison of this virus? The first Episcopalian? The first left-handed person? Because they all same as relevant.

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