The Danbury prison

Washington – Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy are demanding answers from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons about its response to an outbreak of COVID-19 cases at the federal prison in Danbury, where 60 inmates and 50 staff members have contracted the disease and one inmate has died.

“We are also concerned that, while FCI Danbury appears to be using isolation and quarantining units to some extent, almost every unit has at least one inmate who has tested positive for COVID-19. Given that supply limitations have forced FCI Danbury to only test symptomatic inmates, the actual infection rate is likely many times higher,” the senators wrote Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal on Tuesday.

The BOP’s reaction to the growing coronavirus crisis in prisons has raised alarms among advocates and the family members of inmates who are concerned the agency is not doing enough to ensure the safety of the nearly 175,000 inmates serving time in the nation’s federal facilities.

Last month U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, wrote that she has spoken to the prison’s warden about improving its communication with inmates’ families.

Recent figures provided by the BOP show that out of 2,700 covonavirus tests administered at the federal facilities, nearly 2,000, or 70%, have come back positive.

The Bureau of Prisons has also been slow to follow a directive from Attorney General William Barr to expedite the release of inmates to home confinement at facilities in Danbury, Oakdale, La., and Elkton, Ohio, where cases of COVID-19 had been spiking.

And last month, attorneys from a Stamford law firm, Quinnipiac University School of Law and Yale Law School filed a class action federal lawsuit to force authorities to take emergency measures to protect the men and women incarcerated at Federal Correctional Institution Danbury.

FCI Danbury, a low security federal correctional institution with an adjacent low security satellite prison and a minimum security satellite camp, currently holds about has 736 male offenders and about 320 female offenders.

Blumenthal and Murphy said they first wrote to Carvajal on April 13, and have yet to receive a reply to their first letter asking about conditions at the Danbury prison.

The Bureau of Prisons did not have an immediate response to the senators’ second letter, either, and declined to comment publicly on it. “The Bureau of Prisons responds directly to Members of Congress.  Out of respect and deference to Members, we do not share our Congressional correspondence with media,” its Office of Public Affairs office wrote.

“In the weeks since we wrote, there has been an exponential growth in the number of cases of COVID-19 at FCI Danbury,” the senators wrote. “There are now over 60 inmates and over 50 staff who have tested positive, and one inmate has sadly passed away. Without additional intervention, including greater testing capabilities and supplies, we remain very concerned that FCI Danbury will continue to be a hotspot for COVID-19, putting inmates, staff, and the greater community at risk.”

The senators asked Carvajal whether Bureau of Prison policy limits testing only to staff and inmates who  are symptomatic for COVID-19 and whether its Danbury facility is coordinating with the Department of Public Health, the Danbury Department of Health and Human Services and local health care providers to ensure access to testing.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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