By Zach Armstrong
WASHINGTON DC -- Members of the House and Senate who represent the commonwealth expressed frustration over recent reports of worsening conditions of facilities run in Virginia by federal agencies in a letter sent Tuesday to Director of Federal Bureau of Police Michael Carvajal.
U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Reps. A. Donald McEachin (D-VA) and Morgan Griffith (R-VA) expressed frustration over reports of a lack of personal protective equipment, staff being denied lunch breaks despite work and the transfer of individuals between facilities with at least one positive case of COVID-19 transferred between two facilities.
The lawmakers also addressed Carvajal’s failure to respond to a letter earlier this year that had addressed early reports of these concerns stating they “remain deeply concerned that the conditions within those facilities have failed to improve – and in many ways, appear to have deteriorated,”
Both federal correctional institutions operating in Virginia, Federal Correctional Complex Petersburg and the United States Penitentiary Lee, were specifically addressed in light of recent reports from employees. Together, the facilities hold a total of 4,144 incarcerated individuals.
According to the letter, employees have reported staff and incarcerated individuals are forced to reuse supplies and masks posing risks, recreation has been limited and that individuals are denied lunch breaks despite working shifts as long as sixteen hours at FCC Petersburg.
The letter also expressed dismay over a recent incident with USP Lee where a group of individuals were transferred there including more than one positive case of COVID-19 stating “such transfers are a potentially deadly lapse in judgment.” Adding that it could result “in an entirely preventable outbreak inside the prison, it is also dangerous for the public health of local community members.”
The House and Senate members called for protocols in place to ensure the health and safety of the incarcerated individuals and their families amidst the recent announcement from the BOP that facilities will allow visitations to resume in early October.
The letter to Carvajal ended by demanding “an immediate response to how BOP is addressing our concerns by no later than Oct. 5.”
In addition to reports from correctional institution’s staff, federal agencies have come under scrutiny for their management of an ICE detention facility located in Farmville when ICE transferred over 70 detainees there from COVID-19 hotspots in Florida and Arizona.
In order to quell protests, the Trump administration flew immigrant detainees to the farmville immigration jail this summer to deploy Homeland Security tactical teams resulting in an outbreak that infected over 300 inmates including one death.
Gov. Ralph Northam and both Virginia senators sent letters in July to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and ICE Director Matthew Albence to work with the CDC to send epidemiologists for an assessment of operations at the Farmville facility and stop transferring people held at immigration detention facilities during the pandemic.
A letter sent by Kaine and Warner said that within two weeks of the transfer that the facility had 287 confirmed cases amongst detainees, approximately 80% of the population housed at Farmville, and 26 confirmed cases amongst staff members.
“The Farmville ICE facility and surrounding community now face a dire situation where almost every detainee at the Farmville facility has tested positive for COVID-19.” stated the letter. “This presents a clear risk to individuals within the facility but also endangers the broader community as facility staff and released detainees have interaction with the general public.”
The Deerfield Correctional Center which contains 925 inmates in Southampton County, home to many vulnerable prisoners, have reported 11 deaths, 367 current cases among prisoners and 20 inmates hospitalized outside the prison due to COVID-19. The commonwealth has approximately 27,000 prisoners in facilities and 589 COVID-19 cases among them.