Federal Prisoners Start 2 Week Cell Confinement to Mitigate Spread of COVID-19

April 1, 2020 Updated: April 1, 2020

Federal prison inmates across the country will be confined to their cells or quarters for two weeks from Wednesday in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the CCP virus pandemic, according to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP).

The BOP announced the implementation of the next phase of its COVID-19 action plan on Tuesday, in response to the “growing number of quarantine and isolation cases” in BOP facilities. There are currently 29 confirmed inmate cases and 30 confirmed cases among staff as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the agency.

The BOP said the decision to confine inmates to their cells was based on health concerns and not on disruptive behavior. It added that inmates, “to the extent practicable,” would still have access to programs and services that are usually offered under normal operations, such as mental health treatment. Meanwhile, limited group gatherings will also be available “to the extent practicable” to provide prisoners access to commissaries, laundry, showers, and telephones.

The agency added that it will coordinate with the United States Marshals Service to “significantly decrease” incoming movement.

This comes after the agency announced that a 49-year-old inmate, Patrick Jones, at an institution at Oakdale, Louisiana, had died after testing positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus (pdf). The agency noted that Jones had “long-term, pre-existing medical conditions.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that people with underlying medical conditions might be at high risk of developing more severe COVID-19.

Last week, the BOP said it had instituted “significant measures” to prevent the virus from spreading in its facilities, including screening all newly admitted inmates and checking their temperature. Meanwhile, asymptomatic inmates are being placed in quarantine for a minimum of 14 days or until cleared by medical staff. Those who are showing symptoms are placed in isolation until they recover or are cleared by medical staff based on CDC guidelines.

Public health experts and epidemiologists have also raised concerns about the potential spread of the CCP virus inside prisons. Chris Beyrer, a professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, previously told The Epoch Times that the risks of people contracting respiratory diseases such as COVID-19 are higher in prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers.

Beyrer said implementing social distancing in those facilities is difficult and access to hand sanitizers and other hygiene products is often limited.

There are currently 175,376 inmates held in federal prisons either run by the BOP or private corporations, according to the agency. More than 10,000 among this population are over the age of 60.

Lawmakers and advocacy groups have urged Attorney General William Barr and BOP Director Michael Carvajal to reduce federal prison populations to mitigate the impact of the pandemic in federal prisons. House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Subcommittee on Crime Chairwoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.) sent a letter to urge the attorney general on March 30 to use authority under the newly passed coronavirus stimulus package—the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act—to protect vulnerable inmates and prison staff members.

The lawmakers called on Barr to “immediately move to release medically-compromised, elderly, and pregnant prisoners in the custody of the BOP.”

On March 26, Barr said he had directed the BOP to assess whether it was possible to expand home confinement “particularly for those older prisoners who have served substantial parts of their sentence and no longer pose a threat and may have underlying conditions that make them particularly vulnerable.”

He said this includes assessing on a case-by-case basis whether an individual will be safer outside than inside prison. Moreover, he added that if anyone is to be released for home confinement, the individual would need to be quarantined for 14 days prior to leaving to ensure that the prisons are not putting people in the community at risk.

Barr said among the 10,000 inmates that are aged 60 and over, 40 percent of them are serving sentences for violent crimes or sex offenses.

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