Democratic senators ask prison operators for answers on coronavirus plans

Several Democratic senators on Tuesday wrote to the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the three biggest private prison operators in the U.S. to ask what contingency plans they have in place to address the novel coronavirus.

In the letter, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) asked what procedures prisons have in place for the potential spread of coronavirus.

In addition to the BOP, the senators sent letters to GEO Group, CoreCivic, and Management and Training Corporation.

“Given the spread of the virus in the U.S.—and the particular vulnerability of the prison population and correctional staff—it is critical that [you] have a plan to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus to incarcerated individuals and correctional staff, along with their families and loved ones, and provide treatment to incarcerated individuals and staff who become infected,” they wrote.

The letter also asked for details on how the BOP and the private prison operators will identify inmates or staff who are at risk due to compromised immune systems or chronic illnesses, how they will monitor inmates in segregation or specialized housing for symptoms of infection, and how they will address any possible staff shortages due to the virus.

The senators also requested further information on how the institutions will isolate anyone diagnosed with the virus, whether they have enough resources to manage a potential outbreak, and how they will handle operations such as visits and transfers amid the coronavirus epidemic. The letter requested answers no later than March 16.

“Our members are working closely with their government partners as well as federal, state and local health officials to prepare for the potential threat of the COVID-19 coronavirus to both the individuals in our care and our thousands of dedicated staff members,” Alexandra Wilkes, National Spokesperson for the Day 1 Alliance, a trade group representing the three private operators, said in a statement.

“It is important to remember that our corrections and immigration processing facilities have always been required to have comprehensive plans and protocols in place to address the threat of contagious diseases and illnesses. Our number-one priority is the health and safety of those in our members’ care and their staff,” she added.