Inmate transfers to Fort Dix resume despite lawmakers' objections amid COVID

December 8, 2020
In The News

More local lawmakers are joining the call for the federal Bureau of Prisons to halt inmate transfers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

U.S. Reps. Andy Kim of New Jersey and Rep Fred Keller of Pennsylvania issued a joint statement on Friday calling for the end to all inmate transfers between BOP facilities during the current health crisis.  

Both Kim and Keller represent districts home to BOP facilities — FCI Fort Dix in Kim’s third legislative district, and FCI Allenwood in Keller’s 12 legislative district. 

“Despite Members of Congress raising the alarm about the spread of the virus under its watch, BOP leadership has failed to effectively respond to growing outbreaks in the federal prison system,” the statement read.  

Kim was part of an earlier delegation made up of New Jersey lawmakers who sent a letter to BOP Director Michael Carvajal outlining “grave concerns” over the COVID-19 outbreak at FCI Fort Dix, and asking BOP to extend a moratorium on inmate transfers to the low-security prison on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. 

The BOP issued at the beginning of November a moratorium on inmate transfers to the prison through Nov. 23 as the number of positive cases at the prison neared 250. 

BOP officials said Friday the moratorium was not extended. 

The 3,000 people at FCI Fort Dix live in units of up to 300 people, according to a complaint. FCI Fort Dix is a low-security federal correctional institution with an adjacent minimum-security satellite camp.
The congressmen were not happy with the decision.

“It is irresponsible to continue to risk exposure through inmate transfers from various parts of the country. We firmly believe that during the coronavirus pandemic, all inmate transfers between BOP facilities should be halted in order to protect the health and well-being of inmates, as well as the thousands of BOP correctional officers across the country,” Kim and Keller’s statement read. 

As of Monday, there are 103 active cases among inmates and 35 active cases among staff members, according to BOP data. 

BOP reported 266 inmates and six staff members have recovered. No deaths have been reported.  

Kim and Keller also echoed the New Jersey Congressional delegation’s letter, calling for the BOP to publicly outline the steps it will take to improve its response to outbreaks in its facilities. 

“We have heard deep concerns from our constituents for the health and safety of their friends or family in federal prisons, or that serve as staff in the facilities.  Every day that the BOP refuses to take action, is a day that more Americans are put at risk,” the joint statement read. 

Lawmakers, advocates, inmates and their family members have pointed to the transfer of inmates from FCI Elkton in Ohio to FCI Fort Dix as the cause of the outbreak. BOP officials have denied the accusation. 

“All inmates entering or departing any BOP facility, to include voluntary surrenders, BOP-to-BOP transfers, or transfers from outside the BOP system, are screened and tested by medical staff for COVID-19 upon arrival, and placed in quarantine or medical isolation,” a BOP spokesperson said Friday. 

FCI Elkton was the site of one of the worst outbreaks in the country earlier this year; nearly 1,000 inmates have tested positive there since the outbreak began.   

Nearly 300 inmates from FCI Elkton were transferred to FCI Fort Dix to allow for more social distancing at the Ohio prison in a series of groups on Sept. 28, Oct. 6, Oct. 21, and Oct. 28.