/Feds to quarantine all new inmates for 14 days to try to guard against COVID-19 in prisons

Feds to quarantine all new inmates for 14 days to try to guard against COVID-19 in prisons

The Federal Bureau of Prisons will quarantine all new inmates entering its 122 facilities across the country in an attempt to guard against the continued spread of the deadly coronavirus.

New inmates will be isolated for 14 days, the agency said in a statement Tuesday as lawmakers called on the nation’s largest detention system to do more, including authorizing the release of elderly inmates and the chronically ill to further reduce the risk of the especially vulnerable.

“As some prison officials have already warned, prisons are like petri dishes, leaving inmates vulnerable to COVID-19,” a bipartisan coalition of senators said in a letter to Attorney General William Barr and federal prisons Director Michael Carvajal. “Waiting is not an option. Let’s send these vulnerable nonviolent inmates home for the sake of our nation’s health.”  

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A sign reads 'Metropolitan Detention Center Federal Bureau of Prisons' in front of the facility entrance in downtown Los Angeles, California, USA, 14 July 2019.

Federal authorities did not elaborate on where new prisoners would be quarantined, but the new policy comes after more urgent concerns have been raised in recent days about the threat to confined populations.

So far, three federal inmates and three prison staffers have tested positive for the virus. One of the inmates is in isolation in Brooklyn; two others are in Louisiana. The three staffers are in prisons in Mississippi, Kansas and Texas.

“The bureau is also working with the courts and the U.S. Marshals Service to reduce transmission risks from movement for court proceedings, with options such as the use of video conferencing,” the agency said Tuesday.

Earlier this month, the bureau halted all visitation and restricted some inmate movements across the system. Prison union officials have argued for a complete halt to prisoner transfers, arguing that the movement has increased the risk of spread to both staffers and inmates.

President Donald Trump said this week he was considering the release of some federal prisoners in an attempt to reduce the risk of a larger outbreak, acknowledging the potential vulnerability of elderly inmates.

Trump said the consideration would only include “totally nonviolent prisoners,” but it was unclear if the administration would act on it.

Unlike state and local jail officials, who have authorized the release of hundreds of prisoners in recent weeks to reduce the health risk, federal authorities have been resistant to such actions, even as it struggles against persistent staffing shortages.

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