Virginia lawmakers demand response from Federal Bureau of Prisons after conditions worsen at state prisons amid COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 3:43 PM, Sep 22, 2020

WASHINGTON - Virginia lawmakers are demanding answers from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) regarding reports of troubling conditions at state facilities amid COVID-19.

On Tuesday, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Reps. A. Donald McEachin (D-VA) and Morgan Griffith (R-VA) expressed their frustrations with BOP's Director Michael Carvajal’s for failure to respond to a letter sent earlier this year. The lawmakers pressed for answers concerning an ongoing lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and "diminished quality of life for incarcerated individuals."

“Nearly four months ago, we sent you a letter detailing the significant risks and challenges COVID-19 posed to the health and safety of staff, incarcerated individuals at FCC Petersburg and USP Lee, and the surrounding communities. We remain deeply concerned that the conditions within those facilities have failed to improve – and in many ways, appear to have deteriorated,” the lawmakers wrote. “One area of particular concern is the continued lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). According to employees at FCC Petersburg, both staff and incarcerated individuals are forced to re-use supplies and masks, which presents serious health and safety risks. Given the close quarters and frequent person-to-person interaction, correctional staff and incarcerated individuals are especially vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. Lack of PPE also creates additional risk of community spread outside the facilities. Repeatedly, we have learned from facility staff that showers are restricted for individuals incarcerated at FCC Petersburg, a policy which further exacerbates sanitation and hygiene issues during a global pandemic.”

Lawmakers say they have received several reports on declining conditions at a federal facility in Petersburg. They say they have heard reports of food to the incarcerated at the facility to have "declined significantly in both quantity and quality, including being served spoiled food."

They are calling these conditions unacceptable.

In Virginia, there are two federal correctional institutions, including the U.S. Penitentiary in Lee County and the Petersburg Federal Correctional Complex, housing 4,144 incarcerated individuals.

In their letter, the lawmakers also raised concern with reports that staff at FCI Petersburg are being denied a lunch break despite working shifts as long as sixteen hours. They also express their concerns of the transferring of incarcerated individuals between facilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Carvajal responded in a letter which read in part, "Both FCI Petersburg and USP Lee have ample supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), to include face coverings, surgical masks, N95 respirators, gloves, gowns, face shields, and sanitation supplies. Indeed, the Bureau has ensured that all institutions nationwide have ample quantities of PPE, and has also established strategic stockpiles in each of our six regions where PPE can be drop-shipped within one day to any institution that might need additional supplies."

In respect to inmate movement he said, "The health and safety of the public, our staff, and the inmates is of paramount importance. Thus, we have adopted a test-in/test-out policy for all inmates who are moved, with only inmates who have tested negative via a lab-confirmed test being moved."

To read the letter from Virginia's lawmakers, click here.
To read the letter from Director Michael Carvajal, click here.