The Federal Bureau of Prisons does not currently have plans to test staff members directly for COVID-19 exposure and will instead rely on local institutions to track staff infection rates, BOP Medical Director Jeffry Allen told the Senate Committee on the Judiciary June 4.
“We rely heavily on relationships and community partnerships for the testing of staff; we are not currently testing own staff. Our healthcare resources, our healthcare staffing resources at those levels are primarily for primary care of the inmate populations in conventional situations,” said Allen.
“Now that we’re in contingency and crisis scenarios, where operations are severely affected, directing them to test staff would detract from their ability to manage the inmate population and provide care.”
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Officers on the ground say that many BOP locations are seriously understaffed, resulting in dangerous working conditions.
Those community partnerships include Centers for Disease Control programs and testing centers set up by state and local health departments.
BOP is currently operating under criteria for internal testing that prioritizes testing inmates presenting symptoms, have likely exposure, are in an at-risk population or are moving in and out of the prison system.
“We are expanding our capabilities for testing right now, and we have created some criteria based on the availability of testing resources for a given institution. We are not currently recommending that all inmates be tested, unless those supplies are available,” said Allen.
As of June 1, 5,323 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19, wile 616 staff members had tested positive. Over 400 of those staff members have recovered and returned to work.
But the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents many BOP correctional officers and staff, called the decision “irresponsible and objectionable.”
“I was offended by Dr. Allen’s comments. His prioritization of inmate care without regard to the health and safety of our employees is repulsive and is not indicative of supporting the agency’s ‘most valuable resource,’” said AFGE Council of Prison Locals President Shane Fausey in a news release.
“The Bureau of Prisons should prioritize the voluntary testing of all employees, especially utilizing all assets within the agency itself, without delay.”