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Our view: Lompoc prison COVID-19 outbreak should be investigated

By and   /   Friday, May 15th, 2020  /   Comments Off on Our view: Lompoc prison COVID-19 outbreak should be investigated

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The outbreak of COVID-19 cases at the federal penitentiary in Lompoc is giving the region’s otherwise stellar record for flattening the curve a black eye.

A recent letter from legislators and Santa Barbara County supervisors asking the state to carve out the Lompoc prison COVID-19 cases from the rest of the region for purposes of reopening is one way to respond.

But another would be for our congressional representatives to demand an investigation into what went wrong and why. Correspondence between the Lompoc facility and its Washington, D.C-based overseers should be made public.

And because the penal system is part of the Justice Department, which would normally investigate these matters, we are calling for an independent authority to review what happened and whether any crimes were committed.

Reporting elsewhere suggests that 25 percent of all coronavirus cases in the federal penal system are at Lompoc. That is shameful.

What is even more shameful is the utter lack of accountability that the federal prison authorities have in managing this outbreak and its potential to spread across the city of Lompoc and beyond.

Moreover, as the letter points out, prison authorities have been uncooperative in working with area health authorities to manage the problem — and they’ve been uncommunicative about the issue.

That the Lompoc prison situation is quite dangerous is beyond dispute. What is also beyond dispute is the danger of community spread among prison workers and the wider community.

Beyond the prison walls is a large community that in normal times sends thousands of people to work each day in Santa Maria, Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley. It is home to Vandenberg Air Force Base, an essential facility when it comes to national defense.

Getting control of COVID-19 in Lompoc is key to the entire region’s economic recovery effort and it will take time, contact tracing and real efforts to control prison conditions. It’s time to get a grip on what’s happening, figure out what went wrong and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

COVER PANDEMIC SHORTFALLS

While Santa Barbara County pays a huge price for dealing with the COVID-19 hotspot at the Lompoc penitentiary, Congress continues to be stymied on providing fiscal relief to state and local governments.

California, major cities, counties and smaller communities have been disciplined in their response to the coronavirus pandemic and it makes sense for them to get some relief so that public safety and health care systems can remain intact.

The National Governor’s Association, headed by Republican Larry Hogan of Maryland, has made sensible arguments in favor of $500 billion to cover shortfalls due to the pandemic and to provide health care to those who can’t afford it.

Reasonable conditions can prevent state funds from being used for pension top-offs or other unintended purposes. But states should be made whole for their pandemic costs and layoffs at the state and local level will only exacerbate the unemployment problem and deepen the recession.

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