DOJ IG Commits to Public Reports in Bop COVID-19 Investigation Following Durbin, Grassley Request
May 18, 2020
In response to Senators, DOJ IG to also consider expanded scope of issues
WASHINGTON – In a letter to U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) said he will consider a broader set of concerns in his investigation into whether facilities housing Bureau of Prison (BOP) inmates are complying with available guidance and best practices regarding preventing, managing, and containing COVID-19 outbreaks to address several serious issues affecting the safety of federal correctional officers and inmates and surrounding local communities. Durbin and Grassley, authors of the bipartisan First Step Act, landmark prison reform legislation, made this request of IG Horowitz last month.
DOJ IG Michael Horowitz also committed to issuing public reports with the IG’s findings, which will address many of the topics identified in Durbin’s and Grassley’s letter, shortly after the IG completes its inspections.
“I’m grateful to IG Horowitz for his commitment to expand his investigation and make his findings public so the American people can have an independent assessment of what is being done to stem COVID-19 outbreaks in federal prisons, which are hotbeds for infection,” Durbin said. “Congress acted quickly to equip DOJ and BOP with the tools to quickly release or transfer to home confinement incarcerated individuals who are at high risk for suffering complications from COVID-19. Now BOP must use these tools to protect the health and safety of every inmate and BOP staff member, as well as local communities.”
“Prisons, because of their setups, are at greater risk for spreading this virus. I’m glad the inspector general’s team is undertaking these efforts to review what is being done now and what more can be done to stem that spread. There are tools and authorities at the department’s disposal, including home confinement, that can help keep anyone infected socially distanced. The inspector general’s commitment to transparency and to releasing reports to the public will help us all ensure that BOP’s COVID-19 response plan is effective in preventing the spread of disease among inmates and the corrections officers who continue to work hard even in these circumstances,” Grassley said.
In their April letter, the Senators asked that IG Horowitz include the following issues in his review and eventual report:
Personal Protective Equipment
- Whether BOP policy regarding the acquisition and distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to, and use of PPE by, staff and inmates is consistent with CDC guidance and best practices, and is adequately protecting staff and inmates from the spread of COVID-19.
- Whether facilities housing BOP inmates have fully and expeditiously implemented BOP policy regarding the distribution and use of PPE.
- Whether BOP’s efforts to acquire and administer COVID-19 tests are consistent with CDC guidance and best practices and are adequately protecting staff and inmates from the spread of COVID-19.
- Whether BOP’s policy of not testing inmates is consistent with CDC guidance and best practices and has negatively impacted its ability to track and contain the spread of COVID-19 in BOP facilities.
Screening, Social Distancing, Isolation, and Quarantine
- Whether BOP has required staff who have been in close contact with individuals with COVID-19 to continue to work, thereby endangering staff and/or inmates.
- Whether BOP policies for staff and inmate screening, social distancing, isolation, and quarantine are consistent with CDC guidance and best practices and adequately protect staff and inmates from the spread of COVID-19.
- Whether facilities housing BOP inmates are fully and expeditiously implementing BOP policies for staff and inmate screening, social distancing, isolation, and quarantine.
- Whether BOP is fully and expeditiously implementing relevant legislative authorities and directives from the Attorney General to release or transfer vulnerable inmates to home confinement to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
- Whether the Attorney General’s guidance regarding the release or transfer of vulnerable inmates is consistent with best practices to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Electronic Mail, Phone and Video conferencing
- Whether BOP has ensured that inmates have access to their families by telephone, electronic mail and video visitation, including inmates in general population, quarantine, isolation, or field tents or spaces on-campus.
- Whether BOP has ensured that inmates have confidential access to their attorneys.
- Whether facilities housing BOP inmates are fully and expeditiously implementing BOP policies for electronic mail, phone and video conferencing.
- Whether BOP’s reporting on the spread of COVID-19 in facilities housing BOP inmates has accurately and adequately informed Congress and the public on the scope of the threat and the authorities and resources needed to combat it.
Full text of DOJ IG’s letter to Durbin and Grassley is available here.
Full text of Durbin and Grassley’s letter to the DOJ IG is available here.