Members of Congress Urge DOJ Inspector General to Include Virginia Correctional Facilities in Ongoing Remote COVID-19 Inspections

f t # e
Washington, September 25, 2020 | comments

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), and Reps. A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Don Beyer (D-VA), Elaine Luria (D-VA), and Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) urging the agency to include Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) Petersburg and United States Penitentiary (USP) Lee on their list of ongoing remote inspections during the COVID-19 health crisis. Following troubling reports of conditions at Virginia facilities and a four-month-long delayed response by BOP, these remote inspections would help assess whether the Virginia BOP-managed correctional institutions are complying with protocols and best practices to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 outbreaks in these facilities.  

“We write today to urge you to include Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) Petersburg and United States Penitentiary (USP) Lee, both in Virginia, in the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) remote inspection of facilities housing Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our offices have received numerous reports from employees and families of incarcerated individuals regarding the spread of COVID-19 and allegations of deteriorating health and safety conditions within both facilities. These concerns have been raised multiple times by several of our offices with BOP, and we remain deeply troubled by conditions at the two Virginia correctional facilities,” wrote the lawmakers. 

In Virginia, there are two federal correctional institutions in operation, including the U.S. Penitentiary in Lee County and the Petersburg Federal Correctional Complex. Correctional officers at Virginia’s facilities are responsible for approximately 4,144 incarcerated individuals. Currently, no Virginia facility is included in the OIG remote inspections list even as the number of COVID-19 cases have increased.

“On September 24, 2020, the BOP website reported 200 incarcerated individuals and 13 staff members with active or recovered positive COVID-19 cases at FCC Petersburg. Many of our offices have received reports that – despite denials from BOP – cases are increasing and inadequate steps have been taken to limit transmission at this facility. USP Lee weathered much of the pandemic without a COVID-19 outbreak. However, on September 9, 2020, BOP transferred at least one person with a positive case of COVID-19 to the facility. Such transfers are a potentially deadly lapse in judgment. USP Lee is one of the largest employers in Lee County, Virginia. Transfers such as this could result in preventable outbreaks, both inside the prison and in the local community,” the lawmakers continued.

Additionally, the lawmakers raised alarm over the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE)provided to staff and incarcerated individuals despite the contradictory claim by BOP that they have enough PPE at their facilities. In their letter, the lawmakers also note that they have receiveddisturbing reports of diminished quality of life for incarcerated individuals, which include reports of spoiled food and reduced access to essential facilities.

The members of Congress have advocated for vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 crisis. In March, Sen. Warner joined his Senate colleagues in a letter to BOP and the three largest private prison operators inquiring about any policies and procedures in place to manage a potential spread of COVID-19. In May, Sens. Warner and Kaine and Reps. McEachin and Griffith requested answers from BOP Director Carvajal regarding issues at the Virginia facilities. Earlier this week, following a failure to respond to the May letter, the lawmakers once again pressed Director Michael Carvajal for answers concerning an ongoing lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). Following a delayed responsefrom BOP that contradicted information the lawmakers have consistently heard about the lack of PPE, the spread of COVID, and deteriorating conditions, the members of Congress are pressing OIG to include these facilities in their remote inspection list. 

Additionally, Sens. Warner and Kaine have also urged the Trump Administration time and time and time again to cease the inter-state transfer of people held at immigration detention facilities during the public health crisis.

Full text of the letter is available here or below.

Dear Inspector General Horowitz: 

We write today to urge you to include Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) Petersburg and United States Penitentiary (USP) Lee, both in Virginia, in the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) remote inspection of facilities housing Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our offices have received numerous reports from employees and families of incarcerated individuals regarding the spread of COVID-19 and allegations of deteriorating health and safety conditions within both facilities. These concerns have been raised multiple times by several of our offices with BOP, and we remain deeply troubled by conditions at the two Virginia correctional facilities.

On September 24, 2020, the BOP website reported 200 incarcerated individuals and 13 staff members with active or recovered positive COVID-19 cases at FCC Petersburg. Many of our offices have received reports that – despite denials from BOP – cases are increasing and inadequate steps have been taken to limit transmission at this facility.

USP Lee weathered much of the pandemic without a COVID-19 outbreak. However, on September 9, 2020, BOP transferred at least one person with a positive case of COVID-19 to the facility. Such transfers are a potentially deadly lapse in judgment. USP Lee is one of the largest employers in Lee County, Virginia. Transfers such as this could result in preventable outbreaks, both inside the prison and in the local community.

We also continue to receive reports that BOP has not provided proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff and incarcerated individuals at both facilities. As a result, PPE is frequently reused beyond its intended service life. Further, we are concerned that neither facility has taken adequate steps to distance those who have tested positive for COVID-19 from the general population.

Finally, several of our offices have been informed that access to outdoor recreation, exercise facilities, and phones have been reduced due to the pandemic. We recognize the importance of limiting large group gatherings, and that coordinating these activities can present logistical, health, and safety challenges. However, it is imperative that correctional facilities find new ways to maintain and support a healthy quality of life for incarcerated individuals during this crisis. We have also received disturbing reports that both food quality and quantity have significantly declined, including accounts of spoiled food. Such conditions are unacceptable.  

We seek to maintain the highest levels of safety for incarcerated individuals, correctional facility staff, and local communities in the Commonwealth, and urge you to include USP Lee and FCC Petersburg in your remote inspections. Thank you for your attention to this matter and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

f t # e

Office Locations