NEWARK, N.J. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker and Congressman Andy Kim (N.J.-03) today led members of the New Jersey congressional delegation in urging the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) to expand his ongoing investigation into the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) COVID-19 response to include its handling of an outbreak at Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Fort Dix. FCI Fort Dix currently has over 300 positive COVID-19 cases among incarcerated individuals and staff.

"Earlier this week FCI Fort Dix once again had the most severe COVID-19 outbreak of all federal prisons, and we are alarmed that BOP has repeatedly failed to contain outbreaks at the facility,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to DOJ IG Michael E. Horowitz. “Additional oversight is urgently required to protect the safety of incarcerated individuals and staff at FCI Fort Dix.”

The lawmakers have repeatedly called on BOP to improve its strategies for testing and infection control at the facility, but BOP has continued to maintain that the situation at FCI Fort Dix is under control. With the recent sharp uptick in cases and the BOP’s failure to control the outbreak, the lawmakers are calling for greater oversight over FCI Fort Dix in order to protect the health and safety of the incarcerated individuals and staff at the facility.

“…[W]e urge you to immediately investigate the COVID-19 response at FCI Fort Dix, including infection control and testing procedures, access to medical care, impacts on living conditions, and transfers to home confinement,” added the lawmakers. “We are gravely concerned that without additional oversight, BOP will continue to endanger the lives of the incarcerated individuals and staff at FCI Fort Dix.“

U.S. Representatives Donald Norcross (N.J.-01), Josh Gottheimer (N.J.-05), Frank Pallone, Jr. (N.J.-06), Bill Pascrell, Jr. (N.J.-09), Donald Payne, Jr. (N.J.-10), Mikie Sherrill (N.J.-11) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.-12) also signed today’s letter.

Earlier this week, Sens. Menendez and Booker sent a letter to FCI Fort Dix Warden David Ortiz, asking for an update on the conditions at the facility and urging him to grant home confinement to eligible individuals. In November and December of last year, members of the delegation sent letters to BOP calling on the agency to extend the moratorium of transfers to FCI Fort Dix, and requested their detailed plans for testing, vaccination, and implementation of home confinement.

A copy of today’s letter can be found here and below.

Dear Inspector General Horowitz,

We write today to thank you for your oversight of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to date during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to urge you to expand your ongoing investigations to include Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) Fort Dix.  Earlier this week FCI Fort Dix once again had the most severe COVID-19 outbreak of all federal prisons, and we are alarmed that BOP has repeatedly failed to contain outbreaks at the facility.  Additional oversight is urgently required to protect the safety of incarcerated individuals and staff at FCI Fort Dix.

More than 300 incarcerated individuals and 29 staff members at FCI Fort Dix have active COVID-19 cases.[1]  This is not the first severe outbreak at the facility, as FCI Fort Dix has faced several waves of COVID-19 infections in recent months.  BOP reports that nearly 1,100 incarcerated individuals and 45 staff members at FCI Fort Dix have recovered from the virus, which means that in total more than half of the incarcerated population at the facility has been infected with COVID-19 to date.[2]  Even still, these figures may not capture the full picture of COVID-19 infections due to the lack of consistent and universal testing at FCI Fort Dix.  In short, BOP has had ten months to learn how to protect the incarcerated individuals and staff at FCI Fort Dix during this pandemic, and has failed.

In response to the outbreaks at FCI Fort Dix, as Members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation we have repeatedly called on BOP to improve its strategies for testing and infection control at the facility, including via letters sent to the BOP Director on November 9, 2020 and December 8, 2020.  In response, BOP has continued to insist that the situation at FCI Fort Dix is under control.  In his response letter dated December 16, 2020, BOP Director Michael Carvajal noted that “the efficacy of the Bureau's mitigation strategies can be seen in the very low number of hospitalized inmates.”  However, the recent surge in COVID-19 cases at the facility indicates that the BOP’s mitigation strategies at FCI Fort Dix are not working.  We have also heard reports from constituents with incarcerated family members that BOP is failing to provide sufficient medical care, and that living conditions inside the facility have steeply deteriorated.

In light of the concerns described above, we urge you to immediately investigate the COVID-19 response at FCI Fort Dix, including infection control and testing procedures, access to medical care, impacts on living conditions, and transfers to home confinement.  We are gravely concerned that without additional oversight, BOP will continue to endanger the lives of the incarcerated individuals and staff at FCI Fort Dix.  Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter, and we look forward to your prompt reply.

Sincerely,

 

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[1]https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/

[2] https://www.bop.gov/locations/institutions/ftd/