There are many covid concerns in the federal prison system. In this post, we examine an identified concern as well as a proposed bill to address said concerns.
Covid Concerns by Prison Employees and Inmates
In an article for The Washington Post, Kim Bellware outlined a letter from Senators Warren and Durbin to Bureau of Prisons Director Carvajal and Attorney General Barr, calling for an answer to the inadequate preventative measures taken by the prison system to stymie the spread of COVID-19 entering the fall months.
The article explored employee concerns – many BOP staff have reported insufficient personal protective gear and unsafe working conditions. Earlier this year, a lawsuit by employees was filed against the government.
Inmate covid concerns inside the federal prison were also explored. In addition to the unsafe and overcrowded conditions faced by prisoners, BOP regulations are not strictly followed. Prisoners fear speaking out about these conditions because of the possibility of retaliation, and lockdown protocols prevent fresh air or time outside as recommended by the CDC.
Additionally, the senators raise concerns about using solitary confinement as isolation spaces, fearing that it might make prisoners reluctant to report symptoms as isolation would be akin to a punishment rather than a preventative measure.
Efforts to Address Covid Concerns Fall Short
Overall, the letter calls out the increasing case numbers and deaths due to COVID-19 within the prisons and points to these numbers as unequivocal evidence that, although the BOP may be attempting to prevent the spread of the virus, the efforts are not effective enough to justify keeping people imprisoned under these dangerous conditions.
Proposed Bill to Address Concerns in Federal Prisons
In a separate act, three U.S Senators, Warren, Barragan and Booker, proposed a bill called “The Federal Correctional Facilities Covid-19 Response Act” that will begin to draw attention to the testing and data. The purpose is to begin to implement laws and procedures to help keep those in our federal prison system as well as the staff and employees as safe and healthy as possible. By committing resources to the covid concerns in federal prison, there is hope that we can all find health and safety from the scourge of this virus and the resulting pandemic.
There are five components of the bill:
- Free weekly Covid-19 testing for all incarcerated persons as well as BOP staff and employees. Along with this, the incarcerated would receive free medical care as well as the BOP staff receiving paid medical leave to recover. This would encourage infected individuals to stay at home and provide care for those who are ill.
- Data reporting from these tests, including the number and type of tests, results broken down into demographics as well as the results of the positive cases. These results would be reported to the Department of Justice, the CDC and the corresponding state public health agencies.
- Engage the CDC to help with outbreaks in facilities.
- Require the BOP, along with the CDC and State health agencies, to continue to update policies and procedures regarding Covid-19 testing, reporting and tracing. This would also include access to PPE.
- Require a report to US Congress from the DOJ, outlining many of these issues, once of which is the continued efforts to release individuals from the holding of the federal prison system.