Congressman Fred Keller (R-Pa. 12) and Shane Fausey, national president, Council of Prisons Local 33, hosted a tele-town hall Tuesday afternoon regarding the Federal Bureau of Prisons continuing to transfer inmates across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Keller, who has been in contact with wardens at USP Lewisburg and FCC Allenwood, and the bureau Director Michael Carvajal, said he simply wants the bureau to keep inmates where they are to prevent spreading to other communities and flatten the curve.
Keller called “for an immediate halt to all inmate movement within the Bureau of Prisons.”
Movement of inmates during the pandemic endangers other inmates, bureau employees and communities they serve. While local hospitals are prepared now, an outbreak of COVID-19 in a prison would jeopardize capacity and staffing at local hospitals that service areas federal prisons are located, Keller noted.
Since word came last week that inmate transfers would continue, Keller has contacted Carvajal directly and voted for the CARES Act, which authorized $100 million to the bureau for the purchase of additional protective equipment for corrections officers and others in the bureau.
On Tuesday, he introduced the PANDEMIC Act, which was co-sponsored by fellow Pa. congressmen Glenn “GT” Thompson, Congressman Matt Cartwright, and Illiniois Congressman Mike Bost.
“I am committed to leaving no stone unturned in the effort to protect our corrections officers and local communities from COVID-19,” said Keller. “That is why I am introducing the PANDEMIC Act today — to halt inmate movement during this national emergency.
“While inmates are dying from COVID-19, corrections officers are getting sick from COVID-19, and the rest of the country is working together to stop the spread of this virus by altering and pausing our livelihoods, the Bureau of Prisons must do its part and stop moving potentially sick inmates around the country.”
Earlier this week, Pa. Department of Corrections announced a statewide quarantine of inmates, which means no inmate transfers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Keller and Fausey said the federal bureau should do the same.
Support from the community has been strong, Fausey said, and has aided in cutting inmate transfers, as much as 80 percent over last week alone.
“We want them to completely stop the movement,” said Fausey.
The reason for inmate transfers varies, according to Keller and Fausey. The bureau typically likes to keep inmates within 500 miles of their home, but issues such as bed space can factor in transfers as well.
Keller said the bureau has consistently tried to “pass the buck” on the issue, though he vowed to hold the federal agency responsible for the transfers and repercussions associated with inmate transfers.
When he originally contacted the bureau last week, Keller said the bureau told him there were no plans for inmate transfers. Within days, 32 inmates were transferred from Oklahoma City to Allenwood. Several were ill, and one hospitalized though he later tested negative for the virus.
This week, Allenwood received six inmate transfers, Keller learned after talking with the warden there.
“I’m holding them accountable,” said Keller.
Later Tuesday, it was announced the bureau would curtail some inmate movement through the release of a Phase 5 Action Plan.
Keller responded with the following statement:
“While I am glad to see the Bureau of Prisons take additional and necessary steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within its own facilities and potentially surrounding communities, the updated Action Plan Phase 5 falls short of immediately halting all inmate movements.
“That is why today I introduced the PANDEMIC Act, bipartisan legislation that would immediately halt all inmate movements within the BOP system. We all need to do our part to flatten the curve and stop the spread of COVID-19, and that includes the Federal Bureau of Prisons.”