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Congressional Democrats seek answers on use of prison staff at protests

Members are asking for details about what precautionary measures are being taken after some prison staff were deployed in response to the national protests.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., speaks during a hearing in Washington on June 10, 2020.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., speaks during a hearing in Washington on June 10, 2020.Al Drago / Bloomberg via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Fearing another coronavirus outbreak in U.S. prisons, four members of Congress have sent a letter to the head of the Bureau of Prisons asking for details about what precautionary measures are being taken after some prison staff were deployed in response to the national protests in the wake of George Floyd's death.

The four Democratic lawmakers — Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Benny Thompson of Mississippi — sent the letter to Michael Carvajal, director of the Bureau of Prisons, Monday morning.

Health officials have cautioned that mass protests could increase the spread of the virus. Prisons have been among the hotbeds of virus outbreaks — the lawmakers note that 70 percent of federal inmates tested positive for COVID on May 1 and that some of the law enforcement personnel from FCI Petersburg correctional facility in Virginia were deployed to protests despite concerns that the facility is not protecting its guards or inmates from COVID.

According to the Bureau of Prisons, there are 146,648 people in its facilities and there are more than 1,300 inmates and 160 BOP staff currently who have tested positive for COVID-19 while more than 4,800 inmates and 497 staff have recovered. Eighty-four inmates have died from coronavirus and 1 BOP staff member.

In response to the pandemic, prisons went into national lockdown, which hasn’t happened since 1995.

The lawmakers are asking for a list of the facilities all BOP staff returned to after the protests, data on spread of COVID in those facilities, if the personnel were given a 14-day quarantine period and whether they will receive any diagnostic testing. They also want to know if they law enforcement were tested before they were deployed to Miami and Washington where they stood amid thousands of people.

In their letter, the lawmakers note that “several” members of the D.C. National Guard tested positive for coronavirus after duty at the protests.

The lawmakers want an answer to their questions on June 17 and information on if the personnel deployed to Washington and Miami tested positive for coronavirus on July 1.

Michael Kosnar contributed.