May 14, 2020

Harris to Graham: Hold a Hearing on Spread of COVID-19 in Prisons

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Thursday sent a letter to Senator Lindsey Graham, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, demanding a hearing addressing the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Prison’s (BOP) response to the spread of the coronavirus in prisons. Prison facilities in California and across the nation are paying the price of the department’s lack of preparation for COVID-19 in prisons. In March, Harris started demanding information about BOP’s preparation for coronavirus in BOP facilities.

“As of May 13, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is reporting that 2,820 federal inmates and 266 staff are currently testing positive for COVID-19,” wrote Harris. “Throughout BOP, there has been an astounding lack of preparedness for the pandemic. Earlier this month, 30-year-old Andrea Circle Bear died of COVID-19 at a federal prison shortly after giving birth. She was in prison on a two-year sentence for a drug crime, and she appears to be the first female federal prisoner to have died of COVID-19. On May 13, President Trump’s ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort was released to home confinement due to the risk of COVID-19; at the same time, many vulnerable, low-risk inmates at highly infected prisons have been deemed ineligible for release under the criteria set forth by Attorney General Barr. These issues call for immediate oversight.”

Harris continued, “Notwithstanding the early warnings, BOP institutions have experienced shocking outbreaks nationwide. Two facilities in California—Lompoc and Terminal Island—have been especially hard hit in the COVID-19 crisis. At Lompoc FCI, an astounding 885 inmates are testing positive for COVID-19, along with 13 staff. That is a staggering infection rate of over 75% of all inmates at the facility. BOP has built an on-site hospital at Lompoc to handle the onslaught of cases. At Terminal Island—a facility that specializes in housing medically vulnerable inmates—140 inmates are currently testing positive, along with 15 staff. Seven inmates at Terminal Island have died. These institutions make clear that BOP’s response to the pandemic is affecting—and, in many cases, costing—human lives.”

A copy of the letter can be found here and below. 

May 14, 2020

The Honorable Lindsey O. Graham

Chairman

Committee on the Judiciary

United States Senate

Washington, D.C. 20510

 

Dear Chairman Graham:

The Senate Judiciary Committee must immediately address the crisis facing our nation’s prisons. As of May 13, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is reporting that 2,820 federal inmates and 266 staff are currently testing positive for COVID-19. Throughout BOP, there has been an astounding lack of preparedness for the pandemic. Earlier this month, 30-year-old Andrea Circle Bear died of COVID-19 at a federal prison shortly after giving birth. She was in prison on a two-year sentence for a drug crime, and she appears to be the first female federal prisoner to have died of COVID-19. On May 13, President Trump’s ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort was released to home confinement due to the risk of COVID-19; at the same time, many vulnerable, low-risk inmates at highly infected prisons have been deemed ineligible for release under the criteria set forth by Attorney General Barr. These issues call for immediate oversight. Accordingly, I request that you immediately schedule a hearing to address DOJ and BOP’s response to the COVID-19 crisis in our prisons.

On March 5, I called on the BOP Director to immediately prepare for COVID-19 in federal prison facilities. Notwithstanding the early warnings, BOP institutions have experienced shocking outbreaks nationwide. Two facilities in California—Lompoc and Terminal Island—have been especially hard hit in the COVID-19 crisis. At Lompoc FCI, an astounding 885 inmates are testing positive for COVID-19, along with 13 staff. That is a staggering infection rate of over 75% of all inmates at the facility. BOP has built an on-site hospital at Lompoc to handle the onslaught of cases. At Terminal Island—a facility that specializes in housing medically vulnerable inmates—140 inmates are currently testing positive, along with 15 staff. Seven inmates at Terminal Island have died. These institutions make clear that BOP’s response to the pandemic is affecting—and, in many cases, costing—human lives.

On May 6, you expressed your intention to hold a BOP oversight hearing. That was a welcome commitment, but the Committee must do more to meaningfully address the impact of this crisis on incarcerated individuals. We need to examine all of the relevant decision-makers who have contributed to the crisis, including Attorney General Barr, BOP Director Michael Carvajal, and the wardens who manage facilities where individuals have died. We also need to hear from witnesses who can speak to the human impact of this crisis, including defense attorneys, advocates, and the family members and loved ones of incarcerated individuals. Without these voices, we cannot even begin to address DOJ and BOP’s deficient response to the pandemic.

Accordingly, I urge you to immediately schedule a hearing to address DOJ and BOP’s response to the COVID-19 crisis in our nation’s prisons. I also request that any hearing include Attorney General Barr, BOP Director Carvajal, individual wardens, defense attorneys, advocates, and the family members and loved ones of incarcerated individuals.

Sincerely,

###