The Federal Prison’s Visitation Policy is Neither Visitation nor a Policy

I am afraid that without a change we could see an inspector general report similar to the one at Lompoc.
federal inmate bop federal prison

The Bureau of Prisons, which has shared the following at bop.gov:

(BOP) – The BOP recognizes the importance for inmates to maintain relationships with friends and family. During modified operations in response to COVID-19, the BOP suspended social visitation, however, inmates were afforded 500 (vs. 300) telephone minutes per month at no charge to help compensate for the suspension of social visits. As a modification of the BOP’s Phase Nine Action Plan, and in accordance with specific guidance designed to mitigate risks, social visits are being reinstated. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) will resume in-person social visits for inmates at all 122 facilities nationwide no later than Saturday, October 3, 2020, as described below.

All visits will be non-contact and social distancing between inmates and visitors will be enforced, either via the use of plexiglass, or similar barriers, or physical distancing (i.e., 6 feet apart). Inmates in quarantine or isolation will not participate in social visiting. The number of visitors allowed in the visiting room will be based on available space when utilizing social distancing. The frequency and length of visits will be established to ensure all inmates have an opportunity to visit at least twice a month. Visitors will be symptom screened and temperature checked; visitors who are sick or symptomatic will not be allowed to visit. Both inmates and visitors must wear appropriate face coverings (e.g. no bandanas) at all times and will perform hand hygiene just before and after the visit. Tables, chairs and other high-touch surfaces will be disinfected between visitation groups; all areas, to include lobbies, will be cleaned following the completion of visiting each day.

The BOP is committed to protecting the health and welfare of those individuals entrusted to our care, as well as our staff, their families, and the communities where we live and work. It is our highest priority to continue to do everything we can to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our facilities; therefore, every CDC recommended precaution will be incorporated into our revised visiting procedures.

More information about each institution’s revised visiting procedures and schedule will be forthcoming and posted on www.bop.gov.

Bureau of prisons

Presumably, this came from the central office in Washington DC and is making it’s way through the department of justice. It is somewhat unclear why the BOP is doing this and more specifically, why the Federal Bureau of Prisons is doing this now.  It would appear that the Global Pandemic is still going strong and that the Federal Prisons have, by no means, resolved the threat of COVID-19.  Is this a good idea?  

The BOP’s Visitation Policy is not Visitation and is Bad for Federal Inmates

Walter Pavlo, writing for Forbes, said the following:

“In the past, visitation rooms were usually packed with family, parents, children and friends, visiting inmates at federal facilities across the country (over 120 of them). A typical visitation room would have over 100 people sitting in an open room at tables, going to vending machines and children sitting on the floor with coloring books. Those crowded visitation rooms will be a relic of the past until the pandemic has passed. Capacity of visiting rooms will be cut as a result of the new rules on social distancing and the BOP staff needed to insure adherence to those rules.

According to the BOP guidance on resuming visitation, there will be no contact between family and the inmate while a 6-foot distance must be kept at all times. So when a child, who has not seen his/her parent in months, comes to the visitation room there will not even be so much as a fist-bump.

WALTER PAVLO, FORBES

In my law practice, I have visited several Federal Prison facilities to see clients.  Sometimes I am seeing them in order to get them ready for a pending court date.  Sometimes I am seeing them to get them ready to testify.  Sometimes I am seeing them in order to begin my representation.  In most situations, there are special attorney rooms where I can visit the client.  I can usually see the rest of the rooms while I am in with my client.  The idea that these husbands and wives are not going to be able to give a hug and kiss when they enter and when they leave is asinine. Visitation stopped 7 months ago with only phone calls back and forth with horror stories of what is happening behind bars.  I would be surprised to see guards risking their own safety to step between children and their parents or between partners to enforce social distancing rules, especially seeing how rough COVID-19 has been to law enforcement this year.

Pavlo continues:

The ability for family members who do visit will no doubt be limited. Many inmates, particularly those in minimum security camps, routinely had family visit them over Friday afternoons, Saturdays and Sundays. In an effort to give everyone a chance to visit and due to the curtailed capacity, multiple visits over a weekend will not be possible. Also the ability to receive visits from different family members or friends will be difficult in not impossible due to logistics of visiting. It is unclear how anyone will even arrange to visit the prison and whether there will be a signup process. In the past, visitors just line up for their turn to be let into the prison after filling out a form and some screening.

Walter Pavlo, forbes

Having visited these places I have seen the lines of people waiting to go inside.  Loved ones have told me that they go to Seagoville, a low facility prison, and visit with their loved ones in federal prison every day for a long weekend.  A former roommate of mine went to a Texas State prison to visit family once a month with two other family members.  They would go to the prison and two people would go visit him for several hours while the third person would sit in the car with the A/C on (it’s Texas).  Then, sometime later there would be a switch of people so visits could continue.  They would sleep *somewhere* in the town and then do it all again on Sunday.  It is becoming apparent that would not happen in these circumstances.  

Pavlo goes on:  

[Joe] Rojas [Council of Prisons Southeast Regional Vice President who works at Federal Correctional Institution Coleman] told me that many of the visiting facilities are open bay, large rooms with tables and chairs that were never meant to provide separation between inmates and visitors. “There is no plexiglass in these visiting rooms and I can see hundreds of family members trying to get into a prison and we just don’t have the capacity to screen them to get them inside.” Rojas said that staff are already stretched and this creates the real possibility of introducing the virus into prisons. “That this is supposed to be implemented in the next 30 days while there are so many other priorities is just ridiculous. It won’t happen because we cannot just snap our fingers and create this safe environment for visiting.”

Walter Pavlo, forbes

While masks are appropriate, many of my clients tell me that they are given, at best, one mask to wear per week in the Federal Prisons.  Many of them are still in crowded facilities and cannot socially distance themselves from one another.  And while plexiglass may be installed with that additional money from the CARES Act, this will do little to prevent the aerosol or “airborne” transmission that we are starting to learn about as well.  

The Prison System’s Visitation Policy is also not a Policy and is Bad for Federal Inmates

According to the Sacramento Bee, BOP wardens received a separate memorandum. It is unclear whether this is from the Attorney General Bill Barr or Michael Carvajal, the director of all the federal penal and correctional institutions:

“Social visiting will resume no later than Saturday, October 3, 2020, in accordance with the guidance below,” the memo states. “Wardens will immediately begin developing local procedures to reinstate social visiting.”

Nationwide rules include temperature checks for visitors, at least six feet of distance between all visitors and inmates, proper face masks and cleaning between each visitor.

Prisons are expected to allow fewer visitors than normal to follow social distancing procedures, but the memo directs officials to ensure all eligible inmates have the opportunity to have at least two visitors per month.

And in order to ensure inmates all get at least two visits per month, visitation days could occur seven days per week, according to Aaron McGlothin, the union leader for employees at a federal prison in Mendota, 30 minutes west of Fresno. In normal times, visitation hours are only on weekends. That means more risks for exposure for staff. he said.

KATE IRBY, SACRAMENTO BEE

The idea of Wardens developing local procedures to reinstate social visiting denotes that the wardens will come up with their own policies for each prison.  This may lead to inconsistencies amongst prisons and prisons having varied successes with the “policy.”  There is no telling what is going to happen at private prisons, contract facilities, or immigration centers.

I am all for the incarcerated persons seeing their loved ones inside the walls of the federal prisons. It is one of the things that criminal justice advocates have shown is proven to fight recidivism.  But I’m just not sure that handling it in this manner is the right thing to do.  Between this, cold and flu season and cramped prisons I do believe that the prisons could experience a spike in COVID-19 cases all over the United States.  It feels like a time to show that everything is back to normal at a time when it just isn’t.  I am afraid that without a change we could see an inspector general report similar to the one at Lompoc.

About the Law Office of Jeremy Gordon:

Located in the Dallas/Fort Worth Area, the Law Office of Jeremy Gordon has been an award winning federal criminal defense firm since 2012. We have had favorable outcomes in more than 70 cases in the past four years. Our entire staff is committed to providing excellent service to our clients and their families. We encourage you to contact our office today to visit with us on how we might be able to help you or your loved one get the representation they deserve. You can also add us on Facebook or Twitter.  You can sign up for our newsletter below.

Schedule your free consultation

Sign up for our newsletter!