Congressman Fred Keller comments on Bureau of Prisons’ testimony at Senate Judiciary Committee hearing
Washington, D.C. – Congressman Fred Keller (R-PA) on Tuesday commented on sworn testimony offered by Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal to today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing over the Bureau’s response to COVID-19.
During the hearing, Senators and Director Carvajal noted the following:
- The positive rate of COVID-19 in the Bureau of Prisons system is 6.6 times higher than the general population of the United States
- The Bureau of Prisons is now in its seventh reactive phase of a COVID-19 response plan
- 68 inmates have died as a result of COVID-19, which is more deaths than the states of Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, Hawaii, Vermont, and North Dakota
- Two-and-a-half months after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 at a BOP institution, Director Carvajal says the Bureau is only now starting to flatten the curve
In response, Congressman Fred Keller (R-PA) made the following statement:
“From the beginning of this pandemic, the Bureau of Prisons shifted blame, failed to provide answers to easy questions, and took a reactive approach to dealing with COVID-19, which jeopardized the lives of inmates, staff, and the very communities that support these federal prisons.
“During today’s hearing, Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal continued to be unresponsive to members of Congress, passed blame on to other agencies, and outlined a disturbing lack of awareness in how the Bureau has failed to take proactive steps to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Director Carvajal spoke about needing to protect public safety when it comes to home confinement, yet failed to address the public safety concerns of spreading COVID-19 to communities via inmate movement. Director Carvajal talked about how the Bureau prioritizes the safety of inmates, yet downplayed the fact that the Bureau has more deaths than seven different states despite having far less of a population to oversee. The fact that the Bureau is now, self-admittedly, only starting to flatten the curve while the rest of the country is starting to re-opening shows the extent of the bureau’s failed reactive approach to dealing with this terrible virus.
“The testimony given at today’s hearing is another reason why the Bureau of Prisons requires greater Congressional oversight, it’s Director needs to be confirmed by the Senate; it’s central command needs to be more accountable to the people’s representatives in Congress.”
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, Congressman Keller has been a leader in calling out the Bureau of Prisons for continuing to move inmates from COVID-19 affected areas to those with no or few cases, putting at risk inmates, staff, and the broader community. In April, Congressman Keller introduced the PANDEMIC Act of 2020, which would halt all inmate movement for the duration of the COVID-19 national emergency. The bill currently has a large, bipartisan coalition of 16 House members.
In addition, noting the systemic problems with the Bureau of Prisons brought to light during their poor handling of the ongoing pandemic, Congressman Keller sponsored a House version of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Federal Prisons Accountability Act, which would make the Bureau of Prisons Director confirmable by the Senate and in-line with other similar ranking positions within the Department of Justice. The bill, which has bipartisan support in the Senate, currently has seven co-sponsors in the House.