March 24, 2020

Warren, Colleagues Demand Answers to Questions About Federal Bureau of Prisons and Private Prison Company's Readiness for Coronavirus Pandemic

Senators Received No Response or Inadequate Responses to Initial BOP and GEO Group Inquiry

Detainees and Staff at GEO Facility Were Quarantined After Employee Tested Positive for COVD-19; Other Outbreaks Have Already Occurred in U.S. Facilities

Letter to BOP | Letter to GEO Group

Washington, D.C. - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.), wrote to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the large private prison company GEO Group (GEO) demanding answers to the questions they posed earlier this month about the policies and procedures that BOP and GEO have in place to prepare for and manage a potential spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in federal prisons and jails.

The senators' latest letters come after several COVID-19 quarantines or outbreaks that occurred in prisons and jails just days after the senators' initial inquiry-and follows a letter by Senator Warren and Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) in which they called on President Trump to adopt and release decarceral guidelines to reduce the population of people in federal custody in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"In light of the ongoing public health emergency-and the recent reports of infections among incarcerated individuals and correctional staff-we are following up on our letter to request that you immediately respond to our questions and provide a telephonic briefing no later than March 25, 2020," the lawmakers wrote in their letter to BOP.

Just days after the senators' sent their initial letters, GEO reported that 34 incarcerated individuals and staff at a GEO-managed facility in Pennsylvania were quarantined after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus. Disturbingly, despite that outbreak at one of their facilities, GEO refused to answer the senators' questions about its COVID-19 preparedness plans, and instead redirected all questions to BOP.

"We are disturbed by GEO's refusal to provide critical information necessary to assess the steps it is taking in response to this crisis," the lawmakers wrote in their letter to GEO. "GEO's refusal to take responsibility for individuals at their facilities and their contractual obligations to federal taxpayers underscores the urgency with which BOP must confront this crisis in order to protect incarcerated individuals, correctional staff, and their families," the lawmakers stated in their letter to BOP.  

Although the BOP released a COVID-19 action plan last week, it failed to address many of the questions the senators asked about in their March 9th letter, such as steps the BOP is taking to prepare for treatment of individuals in its custody that may contract COVID-19, how the BOP will deal with staffing shortages in the event of an outbreak, and what it is doing to enforce contractual obligations and ensure private prison contractors are adequately prepared for a possible COVID-19 outbreak.

To address their concerns, the senators asked BOP and GEO to provide thorough and complete answers to the questions outlined in their March 9th letters, and requested that BOP brief their staff on the actions it is taking to prepare for the COVID-19 outbreak no later than March 25, 2020. 

Last week, Senator Warren and Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) sent a letter to President Trump calling on him to adopt and release decarceral guidelines to reduce the population of people in federal custody in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, Senator Warren has pressed the Trump Administration to respond effectively to deliver the robust set of resources needed to address this emergency, including a faster expansion in diagnostic testing, medical supplies and care capacity, and support for state and local governments to be able to help people quickly. A week ago, she put out a plan to respond to the economic hardships brought on by the coronavirus crisis -- proposing at least $750 billion in stimulus money to save our economy and help families. Building on the proposals she laid out, she worked to ensure student loan debt cancellation and a critical increase in Social Security and disability benefits are a core part of the stimulus package Democrats negotiate. Senator Warren was also the first to lay out a detailed list of conditions tied to any taxpayer-funded bailouts, such as requiring companies to keep workers on payroll, implement a $15 minimum wage, permanently ban stock buybacks, prohibit CEO bonuses, and more. Her efforts are focused on ensuring stimulus money reaches the people who need it most in this crisis -- workers and families -- and bringing much-needed structural change to our economy.