Members of Congress highlight disturbing situation in federal prisons in Virginia

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Lawmakers are pushing for answers concerning a deteriorating situation in federal prisons in Virginia.

“Nearly four months ago, we sent you a letter detailing the significant risks and challenges COVID-19 posed to the health and safety of staff, incarcerated individuals at FCC Petersburg and USP Lee, and the surrounding communities. We remain deeply concerned that the conditions within those facilities have failed to improve – and in many ways, appear to have deteriorated,” U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), along with Reps. A. Donald McEachin (D-V-04) and Morgan Griffith (R-VA-09) wrote in a letter to Michael Carvajal, the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

In the letter, the lawmakers share that they have learned from employees at FCC Petersburg that both staff and incarcerated individuals are forced to re-use supplies and masks.

“Given the close quarters and frequent person-to-person interaction, correctional staff and incarcerated individuals are especially vulnerable to contracting COVID-19,” the lawmakers wrote. “Lack of PPE also creates additional risk of community spread outside the facilities. Relatedly, we have learned from facility staff that showers are restricted for individuals incarcerated at FCC Petersburg, a policy which further exacerbates sanitation and hygiene issues during a global pandemic.”

“We have also received numerous reports related to other declining conditions at FCC Petersburg. It is our understanding that access to outdoor recreation, exercise facilities, and phones have been reduced due to the pandemic. We recognize the importance of limiting large group gatherings, and that coordinating these activities can present logistical, health, and safety challenges. However, it is imperative that correctional facilities find new ways to maintain and support a healthy quality of life for incarcerated individuals during this crisis,” the letter continued. “We have also heard disturbing reports that the food the incarcerated individuals are receiving has declined significantly in both quantity and quality, including being served spoiled food. Such conditions are unacceptable.”

In Virginia, there are two federal correctional institutions in operation, including the U.S. Penitentiary in Lee County and the Petersburg Federal Correctional Complex.

Correctional officers at Virginia’s facilities are responsible for approximately 4,144 incarcerated individuals.

In their letter, the four members of Congress also raised concern with reports that correctional staff at FCI Petersburg continue to be denied a lunch break despite working shifts as long as 16 hours – an issue originally raised in a May 21 letter.

Calling this “unacceptable and dangerous,” they encouraged Carvajal to institute a nationwide break policy in order to address correctional staff’s basic needs.


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