Groups plan balloon release for Lompoc prison inmates

Feb. 15—Advocates and family members of inmates have planned a balloon release Sunday as part of an effort to show support and bring awareness to those inside the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex, which has experienced several outbreaks of COVID-19 since March 2020.

People will begin gathering at 12:15 p.m. Feb. 21 at Ryon Memorial Park, located at 800 W. Ocean Ave., where the biodegradable balloons will be released, according to Love Your Inmate, a coalition that provides services and support for inmates and family members.

Speakers from the community will offer their messages at 12:45 p.m., followed by the balloon release at 1 p.m.

Releasing the balloons is specifically designed to let Lompoc FCC inmates know they are not forgotten, according to Chrissie Rogers, a Love Your Inmate spokeswoman. The community is invited to attend.

The group is coordinating with the Lompoc Prison Task Force, a Santa Barbara County-based working group of the Latinx and Indigenous Migrant COVID-19 Response Task Force, representatives from Congressman Salud Carbajal’s office and local clergy.

“We are now approaching the one-year anniversary of the state lockdown due to COVID-19,” Rogers said. “We will be coordinating a release of balloons from a nearby park with the expectation that the inmates will regain a bit of hope and know they are not forgotten.”

A coronavirus outbreak that began at the Lompoc prison facility in March 2020 infected more than 1,000 inmates and staff before it was brought under control in May, according to an Office of Inspector General’s report. Five Lompoc prison inmates have died as a result of the virus.

The outbreak prompted a federal class-action lawsuit filed May 16, 2020, by the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of five inmates, who are seeking alternative confinement due to the prison’s response to the virus.

The Lompoc FCC houses at least 2,000 male inmates between the medium-security U.S. Penitentiary, the low-security Federal Correctional Institution and two work camps.

Since the pandemic started, two car caravans were organized to bring attention to what Rogers described as an inadequate response to the prison’s coronavirus outbreak.