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


(WASHINGTON) — 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.

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.

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.

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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