Bustos, Durbin, McKinley, Grassley Lead Bipartisan, Bicameral Call: BOP Must Test for COVID-19 Before Transferring Inmates

Letter signed by 31 Members representing every state with a designated BOP quarantine location

WASHINGTON – Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (IL-17), Senator Dick Durbin (IL), Congressman David McKinley (WV-1), and Senator Chuck Grassley (IA) are leading a bipartisan, bicameral call for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to test all inmates and confirm they are negative for COVID-19 prior to transferring them to quarantine locations.

In a letter to BOP Director Michael Carvajal and U.S. Marshals Service Director Donald Washington, the lawmakers pointed to the dangers of transferring asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic inmates between facilities, leading to potential outbreaks among staff and the prison population at large.

“These transfers without testing unnecessarily put inmates and both BOP and USMS staff at risk of exposure to COVID-19. They also threaten local communities that surround the designated quarantine sites,” the lawmakers wrote. “We are particularly troubled by the potential strain that an outbreak could place on limited local health resources in the rural communities where some of these quarantine facilities are based.”

On April 27th, BOP informed lawmakers that 11 nationwide “quarantine locations” had been designated for thousands of newly-admitted inmates to the federal prison system.

The locations include:

USP Thomson, Illinois

FCC Victorville, California

FCC Terre Haute, Indiana

FCC Yazoo City, Mississippi

FCI Ray Brook, New York

FCI El Reno, Oklahoma

FTC Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

FDC Houston, Texas

FCI Gilmer, West Virginia

FCC Hazelton, West Virginia

FCI Fairton, New Jersey

The letter has been signed by Members of Congress representing every state with a designated BOP quarantine location.

Signatories include: Reps. Bennie G. Thompson, Col. Paul Cook Ret., Kendra S. Horn, Larry Bucshon, Al Green, Frank D. Lucas, Dave Loebsack, Elise M. Stefanik, Mark Takano, Jeff Van Drew, J. Louis Correa, Bill Foster, Pete Aguilar, Jamie Raskin, and Senators Duckworth, Joni K. Ernst, Dianne Feinstein, Kamala Harris, Charles E. Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand, Robert Menendez, Cory A. Booker, Joe Manchin, Mike Braun, Todd Young, James M. Inhofe and James Lankford.

Congresswoman Bustos and Senators Durbin and Tammy Duckworth (IL) previously raised concerns about USP Thomson’s designation as a quarantine location, citing BOP’s failure to implement a sufficient screening that includes testing.

Text of the letter is below and can be found here:

May 11, 2020

Michael Carvajal

Director, Bureau of Prisons

320 1st St NW

Washington, DC 20534

Donald Washington

Director, U.S. Marshals Service

1215 S Clark St

Arlington, VA 22202

Dear Directors Carvajal and Washington:

We write to express concern and disappointment that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) are transferring inmates to newly-designated federal prison quarantine sites in our states and districts—some from facilities facing COVID-19 outbreaks—without first testing these inmates for COVID-19. We urge the Department of Justice and BOP to test all inmates and confirm that they are negative for COVID-19 before transferring them to BOP quarantine locations across the country.

On April 27th, BOP informed our offices that federal prisons in our communities have been selected to be used as quarantine locations for newly-admitted inmates that BOP receives from the USMS. This includes the following locations:

USP Thomson, Illinois

FCC Victorville, California

FCC Terre Haute, Indiana

FCC Yazoo City, Mississippi

FCI Ray Brook, New York

FCI El Reno, Oklahoma

FTC Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

FDC Houston, Texas

FCI Gilmer, West Virginia

FCC Hazelton, West Virginia

FCI Fairton, New Jersey

We are troubled that testing is not among the preventive steps that the USMS and BOP are taking before transferring inmates to these facilities. As you know, screening without testing will not prevent the transfer of asymptomatic inmates with COVID-19, who can transmit the virus to BOP staff, even if they are completely isolated from other inmates. These inadequate screenings are particularly concerning in light of recent data that has illustrated the extent of asymptomatic infections in state correctional settings. Last week, Reuters reported that in the Arkansas, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia state prison systems, 96 percent of more than 3,200 inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 were asymptomatic.

Unfortunately, we have already seen examples of the USMS and BOP transferring inmates from facilities with a COVID-19 outbreak to federal prisons that have no known cases of COVID-19. Last month, BOP transferred at least 20 inmates from Metropolitan Correction Center (MCC) Chicago, where there is a confirmed COVID-19 outbreak, to the United States Penitentiary (USP) Thomson, in Thomson, Illinois, where there are currently no known cases of COVID-19.

These transfers without testing unnecessarily put inmates and both BOP and USMS staff at risk of exposure to COVID-19. They also threaten local communities that surround the designated quarantine sites. We are particularly troubled by the potential strain that an outbreak could place on limited local health resources in the rural communities where some of these quarantine facilities are based.

In light of these concerns, it is imperative that the Department of Justice and BOP test all inmates and confirm that they are negative for COVID-19 before transferring them to these BOP quarantine locations. We also urge you to expand access to testing for BOP staff, who are on the frontlines of addressing this crisis within our federal prison system.

Thank you for your time and consideration. We look forward to a prompt response.

Sincerely,

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