Lawmakers worry about COVID-19 spread after Bureau of Prisons officers deployed to protests

Bureau of Prisons officers were deployed to protests in Washington and Miami.

June 15, 2020, 12:03 PM

With many federal prisons across the country grappling with sizable coronavirus outbreaks, some Democratic lawmakers are raising new questions about the deployment of Bureau of Prisons officers to recent protests against racism and police brutality.

In a new letter to Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Reps. Jamie Raskin, D-Md, Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., questioned whether the agency tested officers before their deployments to Washington, D.C., and Miami, and whether there were any plans to test them before they returned to their facilities.

The lawmakers have also asked for details on the facilities that the officers were deployed from and where they will be returning to after the deployments.

PHOTO: A photo of a Bureau of Prisons officer deployed to a protest in Washington, D.C., appears in a letter from members of Congress to Michael Carvajal, Director of the Bureau of Prisons.
A photo of a Bureau of Prisons officer deployed to a protest in Washington, D.C., appears in a letter from members of Congress to Michael Carvajal, Director of the Bureau of Prisons, raising questions about the bureau's efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
U.S. Congress

Some agency officers were seen on duty around protests in downtown Washington without face masks – a worrying sign to the lawmakers, who noted that several D.C. National Guard troops deployed in the city have since tested positive for COVID-19.

They noted the deployment of officers from FCI-Petersburg in Virginia to protests in Washington, D.C., after two House members from Virginia raised concerns about the supply of personal protective equipment for staff and inmates at the facility.

PHOTO: Law enforcement from agencies including the Bureau of Prisons, the DEA, FBI, Secret Service, Metropolitan Police Department and National Guard were called in to Washington, D.C. on June 2, 2020.
Law enforcement from agencies including the Bureau of Prisons, the DEA, FBI, Secret Service, Metropolitan Police Department and National Guard were called in to Washington, D.C. on June 2, 2020, to monitor demonstrations against deaths of black people in police custody after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis the previous week.
Hannah Gaber/USA Today Network

One BOP source tells ABC News that one eastern regional team quarantined for 14 days and then came back to work because they exhibited no symptoms.

ABC News has previously reported that the federal prison system has been besieged by the pandemic.

At FCI Butner Medium I in North Carolina, 226 out of the 295 inmates tested came back positive and across the country, at FCI Lompac in California, 933 out of the 997 inmates tested -- or 94% -- came back positive.

At a Tennessee facility in April, the medical director surmised that the virus was brought in by staff.

"The uncomfortable answer for those asking really [comes] back to the community and the folks that work at the prison," Dr. Kenneth Williams, medical director for the Tennessee Department of Corrections told ABC affiliate station WTVC in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in April.

PHOTO: Members of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and other law enforcement block 16th Street, NW near the White House as protests over the death of George Floyd continue on June 3, 2020, in Washington.
Members of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and other law enforcement block 16th Street, NW near the White House as protests over the death of George Floyd continue on June 3, 2020, in Washington.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The BOP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“They all need to be tested and quarantined for 14 days. That would be the right move by the agency. But we know the agency never looks out for staff and doesn’t do what is right,” Joe Rojas, the Southeast Regional President for the Bureau of Prisons Union, told ABC News.

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