ID: COV-025 03 Nov 2020

United States Bureau of Prisons’ Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) spread across the United States in spring 2020, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) made the startling announcement that of its 2,700 initial screenings of inmates for the virus, 2,000 had tested positive – an astounding 70% positivity rate. It is obvious to assume that prisons and jails would be locations of outbreaks and rapid community spread given the close quarters, limited access to preventive methods, and movement of both inmates and staff in and out of facilities. Yet, the speed of early transmission through the federal prison system led to questions of whether the BOP was adequately prepared to handle a contagion such as COVID -19, and if the steps that have ultimately been taken (such as moving inmates from prison to community using existing release mechanisms, suspending visitation, and increased screening of both inmates and staff) are sufficient to minimize new infections throughout the system. This article describes and assesses the BOP’s COVID-19 mitigation strategies, details treatment programming challenges during the pandemic, and offers suggestions for future infectious disease outbreak response. (COV-025)

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