March 10, 2020

Warren and Colleagues Question Bureau of Prisons and Private Prison Contractors About Plans to Prepare for and Manage Coronavirus at Federal Prisons

Over 175,000 individuals are incarcerated in federal prisons and jails, with over 17,500 of those in the custody of private prisons

Washington, D.C. -- United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory A. 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-Hawai’i), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai’i), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.), sent letters to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the three largest private prison operators—GEO Group (GEO), CoreCivic, and Management and Training Corporation (MTC)—asking about the policies and procedures that they have in place to prepare for and manage a potential spread of the novel coronavirus in federal prisons.
Over 175,000 individuals are incarcerated in federal prisons and jails, with over 17,500 of those in the custody of private prison contractors, such as GEO, CoreCivic, and MTC. Thousands of incarcerated people, their family and friends, and correctional staff move in and out of federal prisons every day. According to public health experts, incarcerated individuals “are at special risk of infection,” and “may also be less able to participate in proactive measures to keep themselves safe.” As a result, the uncontained spread of coronavirus in federal prisons and jails endangers the federal prison population, correctional staff, and the general public.

“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,” the senators wrote.
The senators have requested responses to their letters no later than March 16, 2020.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, Senator Warren has worked to ensure that the Trump Administration is effectively responding to the outbreak and that the U.S. has the resources needed to address this threat. Her ongoing efforts include the following:

  • Senator Warren led her colleagues in a letter urging federal agencies to suspend all immigration enforcement actions in and around hospitals and other medical facilities as the nation prepares for potential outbreaks of coronavirus disease.
  • Senators Warren and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) sent letters to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requesting information on their efforts to protect the American public from coronavirus scams.A
  • Also, on March 3, 2020, she questioned the nation's largest retail banks -- JP Morgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank, and U.S. Bancorp -- on plans for assisting Americans affected by coronavirus-related disruptions.
  • On March 2, 2020, Senator Warren joined Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Ranking Member, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and their seven Democratic HELP Committee colleagues to request Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia provide details about the Department’s coronavirus preparedness and response efforts and how the Department plans to protect the safety, health, and economic security of workers and their families in light of the increasing threat from the coronavirus.  
  • Also on March 2, Senator Warren joined Senator Murray and their HELP Democratic colleagues to request more information about the Department of Education’s coronavirus task force, including encouraging Secretary Betsy DeVos to include representatives of frontline school staff on the task force and in decision-making.
  • Senator Warren also sent letters to the CEOs of Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley -- the U.S.-based "Too Big to Fail" banks with the largest foreign exposures -- asking about how they are monitoring and preparing to mitigate the economic risks of the outbreak of the coronavirus. 
  • She also introduced legislation on February 27, 2020 requiring all funds that have been appropriated to build a border wall--including funds directly appropriated by Congress and funds diverted by the executive branch from other accounts--to be immediately transferred to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for the purpose of combatting the novel coronavirus.
  • Senator Warren wrote to federal agencies raising concerns over reports that appeared to show confusion and disagreement between federal officials earlier this month when State Department and HHS officials overruled Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations during the evacuation of American citizens with coronavirus from Japan.
  • Senator Warren joined Senator Murray and 24 of their Senate colleagues pressing the Trump Administration to request emergency funding for the coronavirus response. Their letter to HHS and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) also expressed their concerns over the Trump Administration's failure to outline what additional resources it needs to respond to the rapidly developing coronavirus outbreak.
  • Senator Warren and Senator Murray led 25 of their Senate colleagues urging the head of the National Security Council (NSC) to appoint a senior global health security expert to manage the response to the threat. Senators Warren and Murray first raised concerns about this lack of public health leadership at the NSC in May 2018.
  • Senator Warren also joined Senator Murray and sent a letter to OMB and HHS opposing their decision to pull funding from existing public health programs to combat coronavirus rather than requesting supplemental funds from Congress.
  • On February 13, 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on a bipartisan letter calling on HHS to establish clear guidelines for how state and local governments will be reimbursed for costs incurred while assisting the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak.
  • On February 3, 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Murray and Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and 47 of their bipartisan colleagues calling on CDC to distribute rapid diagnostic tests for the novel coronavirus as quickly as possible and to prioritize states with confirmed cases of the virus to receive the first available test kits.
  • On January 31, 2020, after the first coronavirus case was confirmed in the United States, Senators Warren and Angus King (I-Maine) questioned USAID on the agency's 2019 decision to shutter PREDICT, a global infectious disease prevention program, which from 2009 to 2019, identified nearly 1,000 new viruses, including a new strand of Ebola; trained roughly 5,000 people; and improved or developed 60 research laboratories.
  • Also in January 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Murray and 29 of their Democratic Senate colleagues sending a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar requesting updates on the Administration's response to the novel coronavirus outbreak and information on the steps being taken to keep families safe.
  • Further, following the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission's 2019 Annual Report that showed U.S. "growing reliance" on products critical to the manufacturing of drugs, which are primarily made in China, Senator Warren and a group of bipartisan senators wrote to the Department of Defense (DoD) seeking answers on how DoD is working to address the risk of reliance on foreign drug makers.