FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 1, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Nannette Diaz Barragán reintroduced the Federal Correctional Facilities COVID-19 Response Act to address the shortcomings of the federal prison system’s response to COVID-19.
The companion bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a member of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
“The COVID-19 outbreaks at federal prisons across the country, including last year’s massive outbreak in my district at the Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution in San Pedro, have been extremely troubling. The Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons have a duty to protect and care for inmates and staff under their supervision. This bill is an important step in providing the necessary oversight, as well as the resources required to protect both inmates and staff at these vulnerable facilities,” Congresswoman Barragán said.
“Even as vaccine distribution across the country is underway, individuals living and working in these facilities remain at particularly high risk of contracting COVID-19 and do not necessarily have access to COVID-19 vaccines. That is why Congresswoman Barragán, Senator Booker, and I are reintroducing the Federal Correctional Facilities COVID-19 Response Act to address the spread of COVID-19 and help keep incarcerated people and staff safe from this dangerous virus,” Senator Warren said.
“The Department of Justice’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been unacceptable and has placed nearly 2.3 million incarcerated people in danger,” Senator Booker said. “It is well known that people in prison and jail tend to have much higher rates of underlying health issues than the general public, and the conditions of confinement make social distancing virtually impossible. As a result, people in prison and jail are disproportionately contracting and dying of COVID-19. The Federal Correctional Facilities COVID-19 Response Act will save lives by conducting free, weekly COVID-19 testing and provide accurate, up to date, and detailed data that reflects the reality of the crisis we are facing in our prison system.”
The Federal Correctional Facilities COVID-19 Response Act specifically would:
- Require correctional facilities to conduct free, weekly COVID-19 testing for and offer COVID-19 vaccines to incarcerated people and employees. Correctional facilities will offer free medical care to incarcerated people who test positive for COVID-19 and will provide each employee who tests positive or is exposed to COVID-19 with unlimited paid administrative leave for the purpose of recovering from the virus.
- Require correctional facilities to submit weekly testing data to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the CDC, and state public health officials. Data reports will include information about the numbers of incarcerated people and employees tested, the type of tests performed, test results, and the outcomes of COVID-19 cases, disaggregated by key demographic characteristics. The privacy of incarcerated people and employees would be protected.
- Deploy CDC officials to correctional facilities to help quell outbreaks in cases where three or more incarcerated people or employees present new COVID-19 cases within 72 hours.
- Require the BOP in conjunction with the CDC and a group of public health experts, to update COVID-19 guidance for correctional facilities to promote the widespread use of testing, ensure equitable vaccine distribution, expand contact tracing, promote decarceration, improve the living conditions of incarcerated people, and boost the use of personal protective equipment and other COVID-19 prevention tools.
- Require the DOJ to issue a report to Congress on federal correctional facilities’ compliance with the CDC’s Interim Guidance on Management of COVID-19 in Correctional and Detention Facilities; efforts to release incarcerated people from prisons; and COVID-19 resource limitations.
Full text of the bill is available here.
The Federal Correctional Facilities COVID-19 Response Act has been endorsed by Partners in Health, The Sentencing Project, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. A group of health experts have also sent a letter in support of this legislation.
“As a social justice health care organization with deep clinical experience working in prisons around the world, we applaud legislation like this that paves the way to reduce the staggering toll of COVID-19 in our correctional facilities while upholding human rights for one of the most vulnerable populations in our society,” said Justin Mendoza a U.S. Health Care Advocate at Partners in Health.
Congresswoman Barragán toured The Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution in May after the low-security prison became an early hotspot for COVID-19. More than 70 percent of Terminal Island inmates were infected with COVID-19 at the time. She made initial policy recommendations and called on Congress to examine the massive outbreaks of COVID-19 at federal prisons across the country.
Nanette Diaz Barragán is proud to represent California’s 44th Congressional District, which includes the communities of Carson, Compton, Florence-Firestone, Lynwood, North Long Beach, Rancho Dominguez, San Pedro, South Gate, Walnut Park, Watts, Willowbrook and Wilmington