This week, many families who have loved ones incarcerated in the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) received good news. Thousands of inmates, at minimum security with little risk of reoffending, have been transferred from penitentiaries to complete the remainder of their sentences in house arrest. The origins of the program owe thanks to COVID-19, which allowed the BOP to move inmates with underlying conditions (over 60, diabetics, heart problems, pre-diagnosis of cancer, etc.) to home confinement. to prevent them from becoming a pandemic statistic. According to the BOP’s own records (as of December 22, 2021), there are currently 452 federal inmates and 261 BOP staff who have confirmed positive test results for COVID-19 across the country. Currently, 41,736 inmates and 8,686 staff members have recovered. There have been 273 deaths of federal inmates and 7 deaths of BOP staff attributed to the COVID-19 virus. The number one BOP institution with outbreaks right now is FPC Alderson is hardly the Camp cupcake this has been reported in the past.
For the CARES law, the Department of Justice removed the cap on the time a person could spend in house arrest during their prison term. Before COVID, all inmates were capped at their length of house arrest (the last 10% of their sentence amount or a maximum of 6 months. In order to reduce prison populations, then Attorney General William Barr, authorized the BOP to lift this 10% and 6 months for certain prisoners with underlying ailments to an unlimited length of the sentence that can be devoted to home isolation.
Now, almost two years after the start of the program, you would think that the BOP had cut this program; 1) the person arrives with a sentence, 2) the underlying conditions are identified, 3) the dates of transfer to house arrest are set and 4) the person is transferred to house arrest to complete their sentence according to strict rules . However, this does not happen.
At PFC Alderson, a women’s minimum-security prison camp in West Virginia, cases of COVID are on the rise. Of the 665 inmates at the facility, 1o8 have active COVID cases (23 December 2022) and 43 have recently recovered … over 20% are currently or recently infected. Paul petruzzi, a lawyer who represents the women in the establishment told me: “The conditions there are just appalling. The women are sick, there is no hot water in the quarantine unit, and there is no staff. I have contacted the Mayor (of Alderson, WV), the Bureau of Prisons and anyone who will be looking into this crisis.âAccording to Petruzzi, there are women out there who are eligible to be placed in home lockdown under the CARES law, but they are languishing there as the Omicron variant of the pandemic tears the establishment apart. Petruzzi has also learned that there are around twelve women who have been hospitalized outside the facility in the local community, while others remain in the facility in the oxygen quarantine unit.
Alderson, like other federal women’s prisons (Dublin, Coleman), has a history of staff mistreatment of inmates in their care. In 2019, Jarrod Grimes, a prison officer in Alderson, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for illegally engaging in sexual activity with inmates in Alderson. Grimes previously worked at a women’s prison camp in Coleman. According to the most recent report into the sexual incidents at Alderson, a total of four investigations have been conducted in the past 12 months, but none of the investigations resulted in substantiated claims for administrative action or referral to prosecution. “The facility has reported two unsubstantiated allegations of sexual abuse, and there are currently two cases pending review.” While all prisoners experience difficult times in prison, women are particularly vulnerable.
While inmates shouldn’t have to ask for the CARES Act, many do so because they don’t think staff are assessing them properly for the program. Inmates make such requests through an administrative process known as BP-8, 9, 10 and 11 (calls from the case manager to the BOP central office). Alderson inmates have told me that there is no way of really knowing who is responsible for making decisions and sometimes appeals come back with denials without any reason for denial. In most cases, documents are lost or mismanaged, with inmates guessing what their status is for review. Going through the entire administrative appeal process can take months and months, leaving them scared of what to expect as the virus grows. The BOP currently knows staff shortage on the other side the country and has been plagued by shortages for decades.
In the case of a woman in Alderson who applied for a review for the CARES Act [confirmed but details withheld to protect the identity of inmate for fear of reprisal] received a detailed response for his refusal from the director of Alderson. In it, the director admitted that she had served the appropriate length of her sentence, had underlying conditions that made her vulnerable to COVID, had a good disciplinary record, but the details of her crime made her ineligible. While the BOP has broad discretion to approve whether or not an inmate can be transferred home, criticize the details of a crime for denying a woman in a minimum security prison the opportunity to put herself in the house. shelter from a virus seems illogical. The woman is in prison for a felony, but the CARES Act is for health and safety reasons, not for the moral judgment of a manager. While researching, I couldn’t find a specific opinion from Congress, Attorney General Barr (Attorney General Merrick Garland), or an internal BOP memorandum that would have disqualified someone for a similar type of crime.
The Alderson women also provided information indicating that their commissary was limited due to staffing issues. While the police station may seem like a luxury, incarcerated people have to buy their own over-the-counter medications like Tylenol and Advil … something to relieve symptoms of COVID. Those who show symptoms, or more specifically who say they have symptoms, are quarantined in separate dormitories. As one woman told me (no name has been released), some people don’t report their symptoms because they just don’t want to take back what little life they have here in prison to temporarily move to. another part of the prison.
Alderson is currently listed on the BOP website as being at Level 3 operations, which means that one of the three factors applies to the institution; 1) the prison medical isolation rate is greater than 7% of the population 2) the facility’s vaccination rate is less than 50% or 3) the community transmission rate greater than 100 per 100,000 during of the last 7 days. Visits have been suspended as they have for much of the past 18 months since the BOP began its limited operations. A family member told me: “I haven’t seen my daughter for two years, it’s just heartbreaking.“
Alderson is a small town in West Virginia with only about 1,100 residents and the nearest large hospital is in Beckley, WV (30 miles). Alderson prison camp, like many minimum security institutions, has limited medical care and when inmates are sick they are taken to a local doctor or hospital. This means that resources intended to serve the community can be taxed when widespread events, such as ongoing conditions in a prison environment, are doomed to overwhelm health care needs. Petruzzi appealed to the mayor of Alderson, Travis Copenhagen, in a written letter: âThe health and safety of the people of Alderson depends on the appropriate actions taken by community leaders.Perhaps Petruzzi will have a sympathetic ear with Copenhagen that may demand some relief for his own community.
Alderson’s women are waiting for someone to help them, anyone.