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Friday: House Democrats to Hold Virtual Roundtable on COVID-19 in Prisons & Jails

Washington, May 21, 2020

Washington, D.C. – On Friday, May 22, 2020 at 4:00 p.m. EST, House Democrats will hold a virtual roundtable to discuss the Trump Administration’s inadequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of COVID-19 in prisons and jails. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Crime Subcommittee Chair Karen Bass (D-CA) have written to the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) on five prior occasions regarding the Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Marshals Service’s handling of the coronavirus. To date, the Members have only received one substantive, yet inadequate, response. During the roundtable, Members and participants will discuss actions the Trump Administration must take to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.

In addition to Chairman Nadler and Chair Bass, additional House Judiciary Committee Democrats are expected to participate in the roundtable.

Panelists:

Angela Caldwell is the daughter of Thomas Balsiger, who is a prisoner at the La Tuna BOP camp in Anthony, Texas. Mr. Balsiger is 67 years old, has advanced coronary artery disease, and suffered a heart attack last year. On April 14, 2020, Mr. Balsiger was one of about 50 people at the prison who were told that they would be released to home confinement in “7-30 days.” The following week, all but three of those 50 people were told their release orders had been rescinded because they did not, in fact, qualify for release. On May 16, 2020, he was informed that he would not be released to home confinement but was not given a reason for that determination.

Andrea James is the Founder and Executive Director of the National Council on Incarcerated Women and Formerly Incarcerated Women and works directly with persons impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19 in our jails and prisons.

David Patton has been the Executive Director and Attorney-in-Chief of the Federal Defenders of New York since July 2011.

Date: May 22, 2020

Time: 4:00 p.m. EST

Livestream: The virtual roundtable will stream live here.

Background: The Bureau of Prisons manages 122 facilities across the United States and has contracts with 12 private facilities, housing 16,742 prisoners. As of May 19, 2020, COVID-19 had spread to 49 BOP facilities and 24 residential reentry centers (RRCs), with which BOP has contracts. The BOP also reports having 138,954 federal inmates in BOP-managed institutions and 12,107 in community-based facilities. There are more than 36,000 staffers working for the BOP.

As of May 18, 2020, there were at least 57 COVID-19 prisoner deaths in BOP custody. Andrea Circle Bear died from COVID-19 in late April, shortly after giving birth to her baby while on a ventilator after being sentenced and transported to a federal prison during the height of the pandemic.

As of May 19, 2020, there were 2,159 federal inmates and 196 BOP staff who have confirmed positive test results. This does not reflect the total number of BOP prisoners who are infected with COVID-19, however, because BOP does not have a comprehensive testing regimen.

The USMS does not operate its own jails, but it contracts with approximately 1,200 state and local government agencies, as well as with private facilities, for housing detainees. At any given time, the USMS is responsible for housing approximately 52,000 detainees in federal, state, local, and private jails throughout the United States. An additional 10,500 individuals are held pretrial in BOP facilities.

On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was signed into law. The CARES Act gave the BOP new tools to reduce crowding in BOP facilities during the COVID-19 crisis—broad authority to transfer prisoners into home confinement—which BOP has drastically underutilized.

Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Crime Subcommittee Chair Karen Bass have repeatedly urged U.S. Attorney General Barr, the BOP and USMS to consider aggressive measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and jails.

The full list of letters sent by the House Judiciary Committee to federal agencies concerning COVID-19 can be found here.

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