WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – Attorney General William Barr has ordered the Bureau of Prisons to prioritize the early release of some federal inmates in Louisiana, Connecticut and Ohio due to major coronavirus outbreaks.
Dozens of inmates and staff have tested positive for the virus in the facilities, and several inmates have died.
Members of Congress want to know how the BOP plans to handle this.
“It’s clearly a hotspot for the coronavirus and COVID-19,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-LA.
One of the hardest-hit federal prisons is in Kennedy’s home state. The Federal Correctional Complex in Oakdale has reported five inmate deaths, and more than two dozen inmates and staff who have tested positive.
“People in the community of Oakdale are scared, the prison guards are scared, the employees are scared, the prisoners are scared,” Kennedy said. “We want to protect everybody’s health.”
However, Kennedy doesn’t think releasing certain inmates is the right call.
“Most of these prisoners are not there just for missing Sunday school,” he said. “Many of them committed crimes of violence, and the answer is not to just let all of our prisoners go.”
The BOP reports its prisons have moved nearly 800 inmates to home confinement.
Kennedy worries those released could spread coronavirus in their community. He along with Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-LA, and Rep. Mike Johnson, R-LA, sent a letter to BOP Director Michael Carvajal asking how the agency is releasing and monitoring the inmates. They also want to know what procedures are in place to protect the remaining prisoners, employees and community. https://mikejohnson.house.gov/sites/mikejohnson.house.gov/files/04-07-20%20LA%20CODEL%20Letter%20to%20BOP%20Director%20-%20FCI%20Oakdale%20COVID%2019.pdf
“If I don’t hear something in short order, I’m going to raise fresh hell with them because the problem isn’t getting better,” Kennedy said.
“We must contain coronavirus wherever we find it,” Cassidy said in a statement. “This is for the safety of the support staff, guards, law enforcement, their families and all others concerned in Oakdale. Our letter seeks more information on how the Bureau of Prisons is working to that end.”
“We recognize these are challenging times for the Bureau of Prisons, but the situation at Oakdale FCI is unacceptable,” Johnson said in a statement. “The BOP must take decisive action to protect the health and safety of the staff, officers, prison population and surrounding community. I want to thank Senator Cassidy and Senator Kennedy for joining me in this effort. We look forward to the BOP’s prompt response.”
Kennedy said he will continue to push for better quarantine measures inside prisons and more protection materials for staff.
The BOP has posted a “modified operations” plan on its website, where the agency updates the number of coronavirus cases in its system. https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/covid19_status.jsp