September 22, 2020

Senators Warren, Booker, and Rep. Deutch, Demand Information on the Safety of Prisoner Transportation by the U.S. Marshals Service and Contractor 'Prisoner Transportation Services' Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

"With over 125,692 confirmed cases and at least 1,066 prisoner deaths to date, the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and jails continues at an alarming rate." "The uncontained spread of coronavirus in federal prisons and jails endangers the federal prison population, correctional staff, and the general public."

Letter to USMS (PDF) | Letter to PTS (PDF) 

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Congressman Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), sent letters to the United States Marshals Service (USMS) and private prisoner transport firm, Prisoner Transportation Services (PTS), requesting information about the steps USMS and PTS are taking to manage coronavirus spread among individuals in their custody, staff, and the general public, and urging them to immediately implement COVID-19 diagnostic testing of detained individuals before transfers between facilities.

With approximately 61,000 individuals in its custody at any given time, the USMS is responsible for "hous(ing) and transport(ing) all federal prisoners from the time they enter federal custody until they are either acquitted or convicted and delivered to their designated Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility." Recent reports suggest that USMS has not instituted the necessary protocols to contain COVID-19, including failing to implement widespread diagnostic testing of detained individuals in its custody. In some cases, detained individuals have not been tested a single time until they reach their destination. As a result, USMS is contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and communities all across the U.S.  

"Because USMS holds individuals in federal custody and transports individuals who are sentenced to and from various facilities-which risks spreading the virus to facilities and communities all around the country-the agency has a unique responsibility to take every possible precaution to prevent the further spread of COVID-19," the lawmakers wrote. 

PTS is one of the largest for-profit prisoner transport companies operating in the U.S., contracting with state and local law enforcement agencies and correctional facilities, and transporting arrestees and prisoners across interstate or intrastate lines. Last year alone, PTS and its subsidiaries transported over 26,000 detained individuals to and from various locations. PTS does not appear to be publicly reporting information on COVID-19 cases among individuals in its custody or its staff and has posted no public statements on its website about the steps it is taking to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. 

"We urge PTS to immediately take concrete steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 amongst individuals in its custody and the facilities with which it contracts, including providing face masks and implementing universal diagnostic testing of every individual that enters into its custody prior to transporting them," the lawmakers wrote. 

The lawmakers are requesting detailed information from both entities about the steps they are taking to protect incarcerated people in their custody, their staff, and the general public from the further spread of COVID-19. 

Last year, Senators Warren, Booker and Representative Deutch led an oversight investigation into PTS about reports that it was subjecting individuals in its custody to cruel and inhumane treatment and conditions aboard its vans, and urged the Inspector General (IG) of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to conduct an audit of the private prisoner transportation industry to evaluate whether DOJ is conducting sufficient oversight of prisoner transport and whether those companies are complying with federal law and regulations.  In June, Senators Warren and Booker called on BOP to immediately conduct universal COVID-19 diagnostic testing of all incarcerated individuals and correctional staff - including those at privately-managed facilities. In July, as part of an ongoing investigation, Senator Warren demanded information from the American Correctional Association about the measures it has implemented to prevent and manage the spread of COVID-19 in the facilities that it audits. Last month, Senators Warren and Booker, along with their colleagues, introduced the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act, legislation that would require the BOP, USMS, and state governments to collect and publicly report detailed data about COVID-19 in federal, state, and local correctional facilities.