Reps. Kim and Trahan Lead Bipartisan Call for Department of Justice to Limit Spread of COVID-19 in Federal Prisons

March 2, 2021
Press Release

Reps. Kim and Trahan Lead Bipartisan Call for Department of Justice
to Limit Spread of COVID-19 in Federal Prisons

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Andy Kim (NJ-03) and Congresswoman Lori Trahan (MA-03) led a bipartisan group of House members in calling on the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to take serious action to stop the dangerous and disproportionate spread of COVID-19 in U.S. Bureau of Prison (BOP)-managed institutions that has led to the death of employees and at least 220 inmates.

“As of this writing, according to the BOP’s own data, more than 45,000 inmates at BOP-managed institutions have tested positive for COVID-19, fully one third of the system’s inmate population. Bureau employees and, at least, 220 inmates have died. Notably, among the deceased, a higher portion were located at BOP-managed institutions than community-based facilities,” the lawmakers wrote. “Even in states like Massachusetts and New Jersey, whose residents have suffered mightily due to the pandemic, no more than 10 percent of the population has, thus far, been infected – far less than the inmate population.”

“Despite those facts, in recent correspondence to members of Congress, a Bureau Regional Director wrote ‘[t]he efficacy of the Bureau’s mitigation strategies can be seen in the very low number of hospitalized inmates throughout the country.’ In light of the foregoing data, it would seem that the Bureau’s leadership actually has not much reason to celebrate much “efficacy” in its COVID-19 mitigation strategies,” the lawmakers continued. “While we recognize that this virus is especially contagious and can spread via asymptomatic carriers, we also hope you will agree that those traits demand even greater care and precautionary measures to protect federal employees and inmates.

As part of their request, the lawmakers recommended that the DOJ and BOP take action to:

  • Facilitate on-site testing of staff;
  • Ensure the appropriate use of compassionate release;
  • Prohibit non-compliance with President Biden’s executive order mandating mask-wearing at all federal facilities;
  • And provide hazard pay for all BOP staff retroactive to the initial declaration of the coronavirus outbreak as a Public Health Emergency.

“While it would have been preferable for the prior Administration to take greater precautions sooner, it is now in your hands to strengthen infection containment and prevention measures as well as ensure the Bureau’s employees receive the aid they’ve earned,” the lawmakers said. “It is our hope that you will expeditiously review this matter and ensure all facilities proceed in accordance with the severity of our declared state of emergency. Nothing less will keep inmates and staff safe.”

A digital copy of the letter can be accessed by CLICKING HERE. Additional co-signers of the letter sent today include: Representatives Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Salud Carbajal (CA-24), Val Demings (FL-10), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Ed Perlmutter (CO-07), Bobby L. Rush (IL-01), Jeff Van Drew (NJ-02), and Juan Vargas (CA-51).

Congressman Kim has made repeated calls for action to BOP Director Carvajal during the pandemic to address the COVID-19 outbreaks at Ft. Dix FCI. Those include:

  • April 23, 2020: Congressman Kim co-sponsors the bipartisan PANDEMIC Act, which limits the transfer of prisoners between facilities during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  • October 9, 2020: Congressman Kim sends letter to BOP Director Carvajal expressing the need to halt transfers immediately and address the crisis at Ft. Dix FCI.
  • November 9, 2020: Congressman Kim signs onto letter to Director Carvajal with members of the New Jersey Congressional Delegation, led by Senator Menendez asking for action to be taken to address outbreaks at Ft. Dix FCI.
  • November 18 – November 20: Congressman Kim makes personal phone calls to Warden David Ortiz at Ft. Dix FCI, as well as Regional Director Nicole English of the Bureau of Prisons who oversees the facility to press for changes and offer assistance.
  • December 2, 2020: Congressman Kim submits Questions for the Record to the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing in the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, titled “Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals Service”, calling on the BOP to provide direct answers for why conditions have deteriorated at Ft. Dix FCI, and on discrepancies in the number of total positive cases at the facility.
  • December 4, 2020: Congressman Kim released a joint statement with BOP Reform Caucus Chair Fred Keller calling for an end to the transfer of inmates between BOP facilities which puts our communities at risk for increased spread, and for BOP leadership to outline a detailed and coordinated strategy to counter the increased outbreaks of COVID-19 in BOP facilities across the country.
  • December 8, 2020: Congressman Kim joins New Jersey Congressional Delegation in a letter sent by Senator Menendez to Director Carvajal again asking to halt transfers which have led to COVID-19 spread.
  • January 6, 2021: Congressman Kim speaks with AFGE Local 2001 leaders representing staff at Ft. Dix FCI to receive an update on conditions.
  • January 11, 2021: Congressman Kim calls on BOP to lock down Ft. Dix facility in wake of further outbreaks.

Congressman Kim is a member of the bipartisan Bureau of Prisons Reform Caucus. Congressman Kim is also a member of the House Armed Services Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Committee on Small Business. More information about Congressman Kim can be found on his website by clicking here