Michael Carvajal, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, testifies during the Senate judiciary committee hearing examining issues facing prisons and jails during the coronavirus pandemic Tuesday on Capitol Hill. Pool photo Tom Williams/UPI | License Photo
June 2 (UPI) -- Two-thirds of positive coronavirus cases in federal prisons are limited to seven of the country's 122 institutions, a federal prison official told Congress on Tuesday.
The Senate judiciary committee held a hearing to question top officials from the Federal Bureau of Prisons about incarceration practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senators questioned officials about efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and the practice of releasing inmates to home confinement. The Bureau of Prisons reported that 5,323 inmates and 171 employees have tested positive for the virus, while 68 inmates have died.
"I am disappointed, but not surprised, at the Bureau of Prisons failure to do more to protect individuals in its custody from the threat of COVID-19," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
He added that the United States holds more prisoners than any other country in the world, citing mass drug arrests which he said "disproportionately and unjustly targeted people of color."
Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal said two-thirds of positive coronavirus cases are limited to seven of 122 federal institutions, adding the bureau has a "sound pandemic plan" in place, citing its history handling outbreaks of influenza as well as cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health agencies.
"We have invited the CDC into our facilities and had them evaluate our work, which has been met with praise for our planning and implementation in the wake of a very vexing virus," Carvajal said.
He added that all 122 facilities have widespread COVID-19 testing and personal protective equipment.
Carvajal also said that the bureau currently has 6,120 inmates placed in residential re-entry centers and 6,398 on home confinement, a 124 percent increase from March 26, when Attorney General William Barr issued a memorandum calling for home confinement for federal inmates vulnerable to COVID-19.
He said the reasons for which inmates are transferred is based on the attorney general's standards, the COVID-19 risk factors of the inmate and public safety.
"These are individualized assesments and we take them very seriously," Carvajal said.
Visitors wear face masks as they tour the Whitney Museum of American Art as it reopens on September 3. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo