DEVENS – After a surge in coronavirus cases among inmates at the local federal prison, two U.S. House representatives are looking for the Federal Bureau of Prisons to step in.
Reps. Lori Trahan and James McGovern recently sent a letter to BOP Director Michael Carvajal stressing the need for immediate action to help stop the spread of COVID-19 cases within the prison.
According to the BOP website on Jan. 6, there were 266 active cases of coronavirus among the inmate population and 11 active cases amongst staff at FMC Devens.
“With an inmate population of 739, it appears that 35% of the facility’s inmates have tested positive with the bulk of the infections being reported in just the past two weeks,” the letter read. “By comparison, the infection rate in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, according to the most recent publicly available testing data, is 8.5%.”
As of Jan. 19, FMC Devens brought its COVID numbers down to 108 inmates with the virus and 16 staff members testing positive.
The representatives cited staff shortages and an increase in hospitalization as the cause for the rise in cases within the jail. FMC Devens, which is located on Patton Road, acts as a bridge for inmates suffering from medical conditions to be treated before being transferred to a new prison.
The representatives are asking the BOP to allow on-site testing of FMC Devens staff, ban anyone from refusing to wear face masks and “other standard public health protocols.”
Trahan, of Westford, who represents the 3rd Congressional District and McGovern, of Worcester, who represents the 2nd District, are also asking the BOP to allow the transfer of medically vulnerable individuals into home confinement and an “appropriate use” of compassionate release.
“While enactment of adequate prevention measures would have been preferable, it is crucial to take robust precautionary actions now that COVID-19 is well inside FMC Devens’ walls,” the letter continues. “It is our hope that [the BOP] will interrogate this matter and ensure the facility proceeds in accordance with the severity of our declared state of emergency to keep inmates and staff safe and healthy.”
Emery Nelson, of the BOP’s Office of Public Affairs office, said in an email earlier this month that the bureau is aware of the letter and a review had begun.
On Tuesday, Scott Taylor of the BOP’s public affairs office, could not share any details of any follow-up correspondence between the bureau and the representatives.
Francis Grubar, Trahan’s communications director, said Tuesday that the representative’s office have not heard back anything specific from the bureau aside from it acknowledging the reception of the letter.
Though FMC Devens is part of the BOP system, it’s not the only Massachusetts jail that has struggled with handling the coronavirus. Back on Nov. 25, the MCI-Shirley medium-security prison reported 142 cases of coronavirus that were active in its inmate population at the time. Around the same time, MCI-Concord’s inmate population had 96 reported cases of coronavirus.
As of Tuesday, MCI-Shirley has two inmates actively positive for the virus and MCI-Concord only has one actively positive COVID case amongst its inmates.
“This virus is challenging, as our nation as a whole has seen, and in particular, is even more complex to address given the nature of our correctional environment,” Nelson said earlier this month. “We remain deeply concerned for the health and welfare of those inmates who are entrusted to our care, and for our staff, their families, and the communities we live and work in. It is our highest priority to continue to do everything we can to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our facilities.”