USP Lewisburg prepares for transfer of 900 inmates

April 16, 2020
In The News

LEWISBURG — Storm damage at a federal prison in Estill, S.C., will result in transfer of 900 or more inmates to USP Lewisburg.

The transfer announcement after the Monday tornado, according to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), scrapped plans to make USP Lewisburg a COVID-19 holdover facility. However, incoming inmates will be quarantined for 14 days as a precaution.

“Clearly, this was not something that was planned for, prepared for and given our reduced staffing levels will make this a extreme challenge to say the least at USP Lewisburg,” noted Andrew E. Kline, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 148. “Over 900 inmates will arrive soon and we can only hope that it goes safely and smoothly.”

Kline said the staff would prepare for the possible introduction of infected inmates from FCI Estill.

“We can only hope these inmates were properly screened, quarantined and cared for medically prior to the tornado taking out the institution,” Kline added. “With several federal prisons becoming positive with the COVID-19 daily and the largest outbreak within any state or federal system, the ‘perfect storm’ has reached land.”

Kline noted that staffing was a concern at USP Lewisburg as 30 staff members were on loan to other facilities dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. Kline also noted staff reductions from over 600 to less than 400 since 2016.

Congressman Fred Keller (R-Pa.12), critical of the initial BOP attempts to move inmates to USP Lewisburg and USP Allenwood, issued a statement early Wednesday afternoon. He noted there had been a reduction of federal inmate transfers since the issue arose.

“Despite this recent success in stopping inmate movement, this news came with little notice and was decided without input from my office or the people of Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District,” Keller wrote. “Moving forward, I will continue to work with the wardens and staff at USP Lewisburg and USP Allenwood to ensure they have the staffing and equipment needed to deal with this and the entire COVID-19 crisis.

“I am extremely concerned that any rapid increase in USP Lewisburg’s inmate population would create challenges for the prison’s staff, and potentially local hospitals,” read the statement. “USP Lewisburg has been under a reduced inmate population and staff for several years. Also, our local hospitals are on record expressing concerns about their capacity to handle a COVID-19 outbreak among a large prison population.”

Keller was also critical of the BOP for the previous plan to use USP Lewisburg as a quarantine holdover facility.