The Federal Bureau of Prisons is operating under a two-week partial lockdown in response to a growing number of quarantines and isolations in the hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19 cases through its tightly packed facilities.
BOP said inmates in every federal prison institution would “be secured in their assigned cells/quarters to decrease the spread of the virus,” and that it is coordinating with the US Marshalls Service decrease incoming movement.
Inmate movements have been a point of contention with the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents BOP personnel. The union recently raised an alarm about the transfer of 11 inmates from the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, NY, where at least one inmate has tested positive COVID-19, to three federal facilities in central Pennsylvania, in Lewisburg, Canaan, and Allenwood. The move was reportedly to alleviate crowding.
“This is a national public safety issue that must be addressed immediately,” said Andrew Kline, president of AFGE Local 148 at USP Lewisburg. “The transferring of inmates from a high-risk area, who have not yet been tested for the coronavirus, to a lower risk area has created a state of panic amongst staff and could potentially result in a medical crisis within the facilities, the health care system, and the Central PA community.”
The BOP told Fedweek that it cannot halt all inmate movement, however, and must continue moves for writs, Interstate Agreements on Detainers, or for medical reasons. It also said that under federal statute the agency is “required to accept pretrial inmates” into custody as well as “newly-convicted inmates for service of their sentence.”
The agency also pointed out that intra-system moves are down substantially in recent weeks compared to last year (down 88 percent for the March 13 – April 2 period).
Like many agencies the BOP implemented an action plan and other guidance earlier in the year that’s a working document. The latest change constitutes a fifth phase of a coronavirus response plan put in place in January. The 14-day “modified” lockdown – which still permits some group gathering for commissary, laundry, showers and telephone – could be changed at any time or extended.
According to tracking data being kept up to date on BOP.gov (https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/), as of Friday, 91 inmates and 50 staff had tested positive for COVID-19. Facing a rapidly growing threat or spread within jails, attorney General William Barr also on Friday issued an emergency order for BOP to begin transferring high-risk inmates to home confinement – citing three facilities hit hard by the pandemic in Oakdale, LA, Elkton, OH, and Danbury, CT.
Positive COVID-19 tests as of 4/3/2020 in federal prison system staff and inmates:
(Inmate) 4/03/2020 – USP Atlanta (5); MDC Brooklyn; FCI Butner Low (7); FMC Butner; FCI Butner Medium I (3); USP Canaan; FCI Danbury (20); FCI Elkton (2); FCI Forrest City Low (2); USP Lompoc (14); MCC New York (4); FCI Oakdale I (18); FCI Otisville; FCI Yazoo City Medium (4); FCI Yazoo City Low; RRC Brooklyn, NY (4); RRC Janesville, WI; RRC Phoenix, AZ; FLM Guam.
(Staff) 4/03/2020 -Atlanta, GA (3); Brooklyn, NY (4); Butner, NC; Canaan, PA; Chicago, IL (3); Danbury, CT (6); Lisbon (Elkton), OH; Forrest City, AR; Leavenworth, KS (no inmate contact); Lompoc, CA (2); Milan, MI; New York, NY (5); Oakdale, LA (4); Otisville, NY; Ray Brook, NY (6); Talladega, AL (3); Tucson, AZ; Yazoo, MS (3); Central Office, Washington, DC; Grand Prairie Office Complex, Grand Prairie, TX; Southeast Regional Office, Atlanta, GA.
The Bureau says that last week it began requiring all newly admitted inmates to BOP to be assessed using a screening tool and temperature check, with asymptomatic inmates going into quarantine, and symptomatic ones going into isolation until testing negative for COVID-19.