Warren, Barragán, Booker Reintroduce Legislation to Require Vaccine Distribution, Weekly COVID-19 Testing, Data Collection, and Robust COVID-19 Prevention Standards in Federal Prisons
Lawmakers urge leadership to include portions of Federal Correctional
Facilities COVID-19 Response Act and COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency
Act in the upcoming COVID-19 relief package
"The Federal Correctional Facilities COVID-19 Response Act would require weekly testing for incarcerated people and employees, fund vaccine distribution and administration, promote contact tracing, expand data collection, and increase accountability."
Washington, D.C.: U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Congresswoman Nannette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), and Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, reintroduced a bill to address the shortcomings of the federal prison system's response to COVID-19. The Federal Correctional Facilities COVID-19 Response Act would require federal correctional facilities to conduct free, weekly COVID-19 testing for incarcerated persons and employees. The bill would also require correctional facilities to provide incarcerated people and employees with the option to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, enhance data collection in federal correctional facilities, deploy Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials to correctional facilities to help quell outbreaks, require the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), in conjunction with the CDC and a group of public health experts, to update COVID-19 guidance for correctional facilities, and ensure the Attorney General submits a report to Congress on his agency's efforts to combat COVID-19 in correctional facilities to date.
Senators Warren, Booker and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) along with Representatives Pressley, Nannette Diaz Barragán, and Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.) sent a letter urging Senate and House leadership to include provisions that would fund routine diagnostic testing, contact tracing, vaccine distribution, and data collection in federal, state, and local correctional facilities in the upcoming COVID-19 relief package. The lawmakers specifically ask Senate and House leadership to include portions of Federal Correctional Facilities COVID-19 Response Act and COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act in the upcoming COVID-19 relief package.
"Even as vaccine distribution across the country is underway, individuals living and working in these facilities remain at particularly high risk of contracting COVID-19 and do not necessarily have access to COVID-19 vaccines. That is why Congresswoman Barragán, Senator Booker, and I are reintroducing the Federal Correctional Facilities COVID-19 Response Act to address the spread of COVID-19 and help keep incarcerated people and staff safe from this dangerous virus," said Senator Warren.
"The COVID-19 outbreaks at federal prisons across the country, including a massive outbreak in my district at the Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution in San Pedro, are extremely troubling. The Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons have a duty to protect and care for inmates and staff under their supervision. This bill is an important first step in providing the necessary oversight, as well as the resources required to protect both inmates and staff at these vulnerable facilities," said Congresswoman Barragán.
"The Department of Justice's response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been unacceptable and has placed nearly 2.3 million incarcerated people in danger," said Senator Booker. "It is well known that people in prison and jail tend to have much higher rates of underlying health issues than the general public, and the conditions of confinement make social distancing virtually impossible. As a result, people in prison and jail are disproportionately contracting and dying of COVID-19. The Federal Correctional Facilities COVID-19 Response Act will save lives by conducting free, weekly COVID-19 testing and provide accurate, up to date, and detailed data that reflects the reality of the crisis we are facing in our prison system."
The Federal Correctional Facilities COVID-19 Response Act specifically would:
- Require correctional facilities to conduct free, weekly COVID-19 testing for and offer COVID-19 vaccines to incarcerated people and employees. Correctional facilities will offer free medical care to incarcerated people who test positive for COVID-19 and will provide each employee who tests positive or is exposed to COVID-19 with unlimited paid administrative leave for the purpose of recovering from the virus.
- Require correctional facilities to submit weekly testing data to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the CDC, and state public health officials. Data reports will include information about the numbers of incarcerated people and employees tested, the type of tests performed, test results, and the outcomes of COVID-19 cases, disaggregated by key demographic characteristics. The privacy of incarcerated people and employees would be protected.
- Deploy CDC officials to correctional facilities to help quell outbreaks in cases where three or more incarcerated people or employees present new COVID-19 cases within 72 hours.
- Require the BOP in conjunction with the CDC and a group of public health experts, to update COVID-19 guidance for correctional facilities to promote the widespread use of testing, ensure equitable vaccine distribution, expand contact tracing, promote decarceration, improve the living conditions of incarcerated people, and boost the use of personal protective equipment and other COVID-19 prevention tools.
- Require the DOJ to issue a report to Congress on federal correctional facilities' compliance with the CDC's Interim Guidance on Management of COVID-19 in Correctional and Detention Facilities; efforts to release incarcerated people from prisons; and COVID-19 resource limitations.
The Federal Correctional Facilities COVID-19 Response Act has been endorsed by Partners in Health, The Sentencing Project, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. A group of health experts have also sent a letter in support of this legislation.
"As a social justice health care organization with deep clinical experience working in prisons around the world, we applaud legislation like this that paves the way to reduce the staggering toll of COVID-19 in our correctional facilities while upholding human rights for one of the most vulnerable populations in our society," said Justin Mendoza a U.S. Health Care Advocate at Partners In Health.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Warren has been pressing for action and legislation to help mitigate the rampant spread of COVID-19 in correctional facilities.
- This week, Senators Warren and Booker, along with their colleagues, reintroduced the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act, legislation that would require the BOP, the United States Marshals Service (USMS), and state governments to collect and publicly report detailed data about COVID-19 in federal, state, and local correctional facilities.
- Last month, Senator Warren co-authored an op-ed with COVID Prison Project founders Dr. Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein and Dr. Kathryn Nowotny on the urgent need to address COVID-19 in prisons and jails.
- Last year, Senator Warren led her colleagues in requesting information from USMS and Prisoner Transportation Services (PTS) about the steps they are taking to manage coronavirus spread among individuals in their custody, staff, and the general public.
- In June 2020, 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.
- As part of an ongoing investigation, Senator Warren called for 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.
- Senator Warren joined Congresswoman Pressley calling on then-President Trump to adopt and release decarceral guidelines to reduce the population of people in federal custody during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Senator Warren is also a co-sponsor of Senator Booker's Emergency Community Supervision Act, a bill aimed at reducing the federal prison population in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Congresswoman Barragán toured The Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution in her district in May after the low-security prison became an early hotspot for COVID-19. More than 70 percent of Terminal Island inmates were infected with COVID-19 at the time. She made initial policy recommendations and called on Congress to examine the massive outbreaks of COVID-19 at federal prisons across the country.
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