Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, on June 3 questioned officials about the ongoing effort by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to limit the populations detained or incarcerated in facilities amid the COVID-19 crisis and outbreaks within the federal prison system.
In the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Examining Best Practices for Incarceration and Detention During COVID-19,” senators questioned BOP Director Michael Carvajal, BOP Medical Director Jeffrey Allen and ICE Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Henry Lucero.
BOP has reported roughly 5,000 inmates and 600 staff testing positive and 70 inmate deaths, with no staff deaths, out of roughly 165,000 inmates and 36,000 staff. The high rates of infection and the significant public health risks for detention facilities has prompted public concern and Congressional oversight. Coons recognized that the death of George Floyd is reflective of persistent structural racism and that racism is an important aspect of the issues discussed at this hearing as well.
Coons pressed Carvajal on why BOP isn’t giving transparency on the number of inmates tested by facility, recognizing that such information — beyond case counts — is critical to knowing whether there has been adequate testing and whether a facility may be subject to an outbreak.
“Will you disclose this information for BOP: how many tests have been conducted at each facility?” asked Coons.
Carvajal did not provide a direct response, then handed it off to Allen, who said, “From my perspective, there is no reason for us not to do that.”
Coons then underscored that ICE should do the same, by facility, so local communities can know what to make of the case numbers that are coming out. To Lucero, Coons added, “I urge you to continue full compliance. I will join with my colleague from Illinois in saying that deporting individuals to central America in particular without testing them risks the same sort of public health challenges that Dr. Allen said that BOP is responsibly responding to. So given the resources now available, I urge you to test anyone before they are deported to another nation.”
Earlier, in an opening statement, Coons highlighted the disproportionate impact of harmful policing practices and incarceration on communities of color amid ongoing protests across the U.S.
Full audio and video is available at bit.ly/30b8H19.