Virginia leaders urge DOJ to include Virginia correctional facilities in remote inspections
Remote inspections would help assess whether federal prisons in Virginia are complying with protocols and best practices to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
This is the message from U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), who along with Reps. A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Don Beyer (D-VA), Elaine Luria (D-VA), and Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General urging the agency to include Federal Correctional Complex Petersburg and United States Penitentiary Lee on their list of ongoing remote inspections.
“We write today to urge you to include Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) Petersburg and United States Penitentiary (USP) Lee, both in Virginia, in the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) remote inspection of facilities housing Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our offices have received numerous reports from employees and families of incarcerated individuals regarding the spread of COVID-19 and allegations of deteriorating health and safety conditions within both facilities. These concerns have been raised multiple times by several of our offices with BOP, and we remain deeply troubled by conditions at the two Virginia correctional facilities,” wrote the lawmakers.
Correctional officers at Virginia’s facilities are responsible for approximately 4,144 incarcerated individuals. Currently, no Virginia facility is included in the OIG remote inspections list even as the number of COVID-19 cases have increased.
“On September 24, 2020, the BOP website reported 200 incarcerated individuals and 13 staff members with active or recovered positive COVID-19 cases at FCC Petersburg. Many of our offices have received reports that – despite denials from BOP – cases are increasing and inadequate steps have been taken to limit transmission at this facility. USP Lee weathered much of the pandemic without a COVID-19 outbreak. However, on September 9, 2020, BOP transferred at least one person with a positive case of COVID-19 to the facility. Such transfers are a potentially deadly lapse in judgment. USP Lee is one of the largest employers in Lee County, Virginia. Transfers such as this could result in preventable outbreaks, both inside the prison and in the local community,” the lawmakers continued.
Additionally, the lawmakers raised alarm over the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) provided to staff and incarcerated individuals despite the contradictory claim by BOP that they have enough PPE at their facilities.
In their letter, the lawmakers also note that they have received disturbing reports of diminished quality of life for incarcerated individuals, which include reports of spoiled food and reduced access to essential facilities.