As Federal Correctional Institution at Allenwood officials await the result of an inmate's COVID-19 test, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is joining the call against the transfer of inmates to out-of-state prisons.
The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) "must revisit their COVID-19 plan to guarantee the safety of all employees and inmates, including supplying adequate amounts of personal protective equipment,” said AFGE National President Everett Kelley. “It is imperative that all transport of inmates is ceased until the COVID-19 crisis is under control.”
On Monday, U.S. Rep. Fred Keller called on BOP Director Michael Carvajal to stop moving federal inmates into Pennsylvania and criticized the department for providing conflicting information and "passing the buck" when questioned about the transfers.
On Wednesday, Keller spokesman Jason Gottesman said the BOP "lied" last week when in response to the congressman's inquiry said there was "no immediate plan" to move inmates into Pennsylvania prisons. In fact, he said, inmates from New York City, where the number of confirmed coronavirus cases is the highest in the nation, were sent to U.S. Penitentiary Lewisburg last week.
“This is a national public safety issue that must be addressed immediately,” said Andy Kline, president of Local 148 at USP Lewisburg. “The transferring of inmates from a high-risk area, who have not yet been tested for the coronavirus, to a lower risk area has created a state of panic amongst staff and could potentially result in a medical crisis within the facilities, the health care system, and the Central Pennsylvania community.”
Several of the 32 inmates brought to the Allenwood prison from Oklahoma City on Monday exhibited signs of physical distress and one was taken to Geisinger where he was tested for COVID-19, he said.
Kline said the inmate is in isolation at the prison awaiting the result and the other inmates transported with him to Pennsylvania by air and bus remain in quarantine at Allenwood and Lewisburg prisons, as well as U.S. Penitentiary at Canaan.
Despite concerns raised by Keller and the unions representing correctional officers and warnings from the Trump administration to shelter in place, Kline said, the BOP continues to transport inmates to prisons around the country.
The concern is not only for prison employees and inmates contracting the disease, he said, but the impact further spread of coronavirus would have on the entire Valley community and hospitals.
"Instead of being provided answers and actual plans as to how to help stop the spread of the virus within the BOP, we face daily changes in staff health screening forms, tracking sheets and so many confusing trivial directives many institutions are simply doing the best they can," said Kline.