Federal inmates to be confined to cells for two weeks amid coronavirus outbreak

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Federal prison inmates will be confined to their cell or quarters for the next two weeks as a part of efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced on Tuesday.

The agency said in a press release that the decision came in response to a “growing number of quarantine and isolation cases in our facilities.” The confinement period will begin on Wednesday, though inmates will still have access to programs and services offered in federal prisons, including mental health treatment and education. 

BOP said it’s also working with the United States Marshals Service to “significantly decrease” incoming movement. A decision on whether to extend the confinement period or return to modified operations will be made on April 15. 

At least 28 inmates in federal custody and 24 agency employees have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. The Federal Bureau of Prisons announced last Saturday that an inmate in federal custody in Louisiana died from the virus. 

The agency noted that the inmate, Patrick Jones, 49, “had long-term, pre-existing medical conditions which the CDC lists as risk factors for developing more severe COVID-19 disease.”

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has led to increasing calls for state and federal prisons to reduce populations to prevent overcrowding and stem the spread of the disease.

California announced on Tuesday that it would release up to 3,500 nonviolent inmates and suspend intake from county jails. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) also said this week that nearly 1,000 nonviolent offenders had been released from its city jail system. 

Criminal justice reform advocates criticized the Federal Bureau of Prisons’s move to confine inmates for an extended period. Scott Hechinger, a public defender in Brooklyn, tweeted that “solitary confinement is not a solution. Solitary confinement is torture.”

“Essentially solitary confinement for AT LEAST two weeks for EVERYONE. Can’t make this up,” Ed Chung, the vice president of criminal justice reform at the Center for American Progress, tweeted. 

Tags Bill de Blasio Coronavirus federal prisons Prison Quarantine

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