Washington, D.C. – In light of media reports detailing outbreaks of coronavirus at prisons in multiple states, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) pressing Attorney General William Barr to explain the agency’s preparedness and response plans to prevent further spread of COVID-19. This letter is a follow-up to a letter sent on March 20 to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) regarding their inmate transfer policies amid COVID-19, significant lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for correctional officers and concerns about social distancing procedures.
“An outbreak at a BOP facility will impact far more people than simply those inside the facility. If the staff and general prison population are not adequately tested, they will be more likely to unknowingly spread the disease to other staff members and incarcerated individuals,” Senator Casey wrote. “Furthermore, without proper PPE, those correctional officers will then subsequently be more likely to take the virus home with them and spread it unknowingly to their family and friends. Infected individuals from BOP facilities may also strain local healthcare facilities, particularly in small rural communities similar to the towns scattered across Pennsylvania housing BOP facilities. It would be deeply irresponsible and significantly damaging to any community housing a BOP facility if a COVID-19 outbreak were to occur at that facility without the DOJ ensuring that complete and comprehensive preventive measures were being fully deployed at BOP facilities across the country.”
On March 28, 2020, the BOP reported the first death of an incarcerated person due to coronavirus at FCI Oakdale in Louisiana. The Washington Post has reported that at least 30 people tested positive for coronavirus at the Oakdale facility and at least 60 inmates are in quarantine, with an unknown number of staff self-quarantining at home. Across all BOP facilities, the BOP has reported 57 inmate cases and 37 staff cases — including one case at USP Canaan in Pennsylvania.
Concerns regarding the transmission of the virus in the federal prison system have been escalated as states and cities have struggled to contain the outbreak in their own facilities. In New York City, which is experiencing the largest outbreak of COVID-19 cases in the country, the chief medical officer for the city’s correctional health services wrote that the situation inside the Riker’s Island prison complex is a “public health disaster unfolding before our eyes.” So far, at least 167 incarcerated individuals and 137 staff members have tested positive for the virus at New York City’s jails.
A copy of the letter can be found here.