BOP director refutes claims about inadequate PPE at Va. federal prison
Michael D. Carvajal stated that no one on the FCI staff had officially complained about any lack of PPE
By Bill Atkinson
PETERSBURG, Va. — The director of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons has fired back at four Virginia lawmakers for calling out the agency over reports of inadequate protection for prisoners and staff at two of its facilities in Virginia, including Federal Correctional Institution near Petersburg.
BOP director Michael D. Carvajal appeared to dispute the claims made by the four lawmakers, stating that no one on the FCI staff had officially complained about any lack of PPE. "Should staff at any of our institutions be concerned about PPE, they need only ask their supervisor and the issue can be immediately addressed," he wrote in a letter addressed to Sens. Mark R. Warner and Timothy M. Kaine, and Reps. A. Donald McEachin and H. Morgan Griffith.
The somewhat-terse response came the same day that Warner, Kaine, McEachin and Griffith sent a second letter to BOP demanding to know why their original May 21 letter was not acknowledged or answered. The BOP response, dated Sept. 22, also came after a series of email exchanges between The Progress-Index and BOP's public-affairs department questioning whether that first letter had been received.
In that second letter, the lawmakers referenced earlier communications from staff and the correctional officers' union about PPE having to be reused because of problems with the restocking request process. They also repeated earlier concerns about a lack of access to recreation, fitness and showers for the inmates, and added a new claim of spoiled food being served in the cafeterias at FCI and United States Penitentiary Lee, located in Pennington Gap.
McEachin, a Democrat, represents the Fourth Congressional District that includes FCI. Griffith, his Republican colleague in the House, represents the Ninth District that includes USP Lee.
"We remain deeply concerned that the conditions within those facilities have failed to improve – and in many ways, appear to have deteriorated,” the second letter read.
Carvajal's response did not mention the food issues, but he did note that both FCI and USP Lee have "ample supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)" that includes face coverings, N95 respirators, gowns and gloves, and other sanitation equipment. The letter did not cite specific numbers.
"Indeed, the Bureau has ensured that all institutions nationwide have ample quantities of PPE, and has also established strategic stockpiles in each of our six regions where PPE can be drop-shipped within one day to any institution that might need additional supplies," Carvajal wrote in the letter, a copy of which was provided to The Progress-Index.
Carvajal said BOP maintains a dedicated page on its website outlining its response to the pandemic, including the number of cases and deaths among prisoners at its facilities.
"That data is updated on a daily basis, and I encourage you to review it," he said to the four lawmakers.
Concerning inmate movement around the facility and transfers of inmates within the system, Carvajal wrote that those plans fall in line with Centers for Disease Control standards for social distancing in close quarters. Prisoners transferring in and out of the facilities are closely monitored for COVID-19 symptoms, and those who test positive are properly isolated from the rest of the population.
"It is important to understand that the criminal justice system has continued to sentence individuals convicted of crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic," he said. "As such, the Bureau must continue to accept sentenced offenders, as well as individuals pending federal trial and sentencing, into our custody and must, therefore, continue to move inmates throughout the system to appropriately manage our population."
Carvajal wrapped up his correspondence with, "I trust this information is responsive to your concerns."
According to the latest BOP data, 203 positive virus tests by inmates have been recorded at FCI's low- and medium-security campuses, As of Wednesday, 102 of them are classified as "active cases."
Eight staff members at the two campuses also have active virus cases, the data revealed.
Warner said late Tuesday prior to the BOP response that he felt the lack of communication between the BOP and his colleagues continued a policy by the Trump administration of not being forthcoming about certain justice issues. He cited the recent transfer of detained immigrants who tested positive for COVID-19 to federal holding centers such as the one near Farmville.
"This feels eerrily similar to that lack of response," Warner said.
©2020 The Progress-Index, Petersburg, Va.