CANAAN TOWNSHIP, PA — Prison employees and Pennsylvania politicians are opposing the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) potential decision to transfer inmates from New York City to PA penitentiaries in Lewisburg, Allenwood and Canaan, the latter located in Wayne County.
The controversy comes amid reports that federal prisons throughout the country are understaffed and underprepared for the outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Specifically, employees have complained about lacking access to face masks, soap in staff bathrooms, hand sanitizer and gloves. On March 20, the Associated Press reported that a federal inmate had tested positive for COVID-19 at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. At press time, 24 BOP employees and 28 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 nationwide.
On March 20, Sen. Bob Casey sent a letter to the BOP expressing concern about the reports of unpreparedness and the BOP’s decision to transfer inmates to PA. In the letter, Casey comments that by transferring inmates across state lines, the BOP is reversing some of the safety precautions laid out in its coronavirus action plan. The plan originally suspended “inmate facility transfers” for 30 days, but then changed that decision to “better manage bed space.”
The updated plan stipulates that inmates must have been in BOP custody for “greater than 14 days” before being moved to another facility. Casey had concerns whether this procedure was being followed.
“I have also received reports that the U.S. Marshals Service intends to transport out-of-state individuals to a BOP facility in Pennsylvania, even though these individuals are currently in quarantine after coming in contact with COVID-19 and have not been in BOP custody for more than 14 days,” Casey wrote in his letter.
Since then, Rep. Fred Keller who represents PA’s 12th Congressional District, sent a letter to BOP Director Michael Carvajal indicating that he received word that there were no immediate plans to transfer the NYC inmates to PA, but “expressing serious concern of any future decision to do so.”
“I request that no inmates from affected areas be transferred to USP Lewisburg, FCC Allenwood, or USP Canaan. To transfer inmates to these facilities following the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the federal BOP system would be irresponsible and put at risk the health and safety of correctional officers, their families, inmates, and the broader Central and Northeast Pennsylvania community.”