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August 13, 2020

"'Con Air' Is Spreading COVID-19 All Over the US Prison System"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article from VICE News and The Marshall Project. Here is an excerpt:

The U.S. Marshals Service is responsible for moving people into, out of, and among far-flung federal prisons, handling most long-distance transfers and newly sentenced prisoners. It doesn’t put people in quarantine or give them virus tests before transporting them around the country.  As a result, federal prisoners in Marshals custody are being shipped around the U.S. by plane, van, and bus with no way to know if they are carrying the virus, exposing other prisoners, staff, and possibly the public along the way.

According to whistleblower complaints obtained by VICE News and The Marshall Project, federal prisoners infected with the coronavirus have been shipped as far as Puerto Rico in recent weeks, and to federal lock-ups in Alabama and Florida.  Bureau of Prisons employees say prisoners have also tested positive after being shuffled around to facilities in Colorado, Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana.

“It’s horrible,” said Anthony Koeppel, a local official with the staff union at Pollock. “It’s putting staff at risk, it’s putting inmates at risk, and it’s putting the community at risk. We’re talking about lives here. This is an extremely dangerous situation.”

The Marshals say they aren’t required to do any testing because “an agreement was made” that the Bureau of Prisons would handle tests and quarantines once prisoners are transferred into its lock-ups. The BOP did not respond to requests for comment.  A spokesperson for the Justice Department, which oversees both agencies, said they “have taken, and will continue to take, aggressive steps to protect the safety and security of all staff, inmates, visitors, and members of the public.”

Transferring prisoners who turn out to be sick has been a problem at prisons across the country.  In California, the San Quentin State Prison went from zero coronavirus infections in late May to more than 2,200 confirmed cases and 26 deaths in early August after prisoners were moved in from a known hotspot without being tested.

Staff and prisoners have blamed transfers for helping the coronavirus wreak havoc across the Bureau of Prisons, killing 111 prisoners and at least one staff member, and infecting over 10,000 prisoners and 1,200 workers in America’s largest network of prisons and jails. The agency officially halted most movement of prisoners in March in an effort to limit the spread of the virus; when it does transfer prisoners itself, it requires them to undergo coronavirus testing and a 14-day quarantine before and after being moved.

But the Marshals don’t abide by those rules — and they keep moving people.  While transfers have slowed — down 76% from April to July compared to the same period last year, according to the Marshals — they never truly stopped. That’s partly due to federal courts and law enforcement agencies pumping thousands of new people into the system.

August 13, 2020 at 12:40 PM | Permalink


It appears to me that the conduct of the U.S. Marshal's Service in transporting plane loads of inmates around the country without prior testing of any for the Coronavirus amounts to "deliberate indifference", within the meaning of the Supreme Court's decision in "Farmer v. Brennan". This situation has all of the ingredients for a Class Action lawsuit against the U.S. Marshal's Service. They are literally killing people.

Posted by: James J. Gormley | Aug 13, 2020 2:38:22 PM

The government did the same thing in the 1918 pandemic, except it was soldiers. Of course we were at war then, but still the chaotic movement of troops from base to base spread the virus acroos the country and the world.

Posted by: anon | Aug 14, 2020 10:52:50 AM

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