April 13, 2021 07:15

Federal Prison Chief Defends Handling of COVID-19

Federal prison officials defended their handling of the pandemic as reports show that nearly 20 percent of the federal inmate population has tested positive for COVID-19, Courthouse News Service reports. Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), citing the Council on Criminal Justice, said that 19 of 20 confirmed COVID-19 clusters in the country as of August stemmed from incarceration facilities. Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal testified Wednesday before a subcommittee headed by Bass that the agency’s response to mitigating COVID-19 outbreaks has often been mischaracterized. “Early on we developed quarantine and isolation procedures for inmates and mandated social distancing and use of face coverings,” Carvajal said. “Our procedures have proven effective … (given) the steep decline in our inmate hospitalizations, inmates on ventilators and deaths.”

Bass was dubious . She quoted a Justice Department Inspector General report on the federal prison in Oakdale, La., where up to six days elapsed before prisoners who had been exposed or tested positive for COVID-19 were isolated. Carvajal insisted that the situation in Oakdale was not representative of the bureau’s policies. “In a nutshell, we had some leadership issues there,” Carvajal said, adding that he “I removed the leadership.” Bass reiterated the importance of testing prison staff. BOP figures show that 1,422 of its staffers are positive for COVID-19. The bureau has lost at least two staffers to the disease, though 1,984 have recovered from it. Carvajal said he could not force his employees to be tested for COVID-19.

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