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Prison staff talk inmate transfers amid virus

Buses of federal inmates continue to arrive at local prisons from around the nation in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We’re battling an invisible monster,” said Shane Fausey, a union representative for corrections officers at Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities.

“Why are U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement not stopping the continued movement of the federal inmates?” asked a corrections officer working at Allenwood Federal Corrections Complex.

The question was among many during a teleconference Tuesday with U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, R-Kreamer.

Federal prison guards and others called in, using their first names only.

Jenny in Sunbury asked what procedure was in place to make sure inmates with pre-existing conditions are being monitored and protected.

Such assurance can’t be 100 percent guaranteed. It can’t be done other than to take an inmates’ temperature because asymptomatic inmates may be carriers, he said.

A caller was concerned about protecting officers and guards in order to protect the communities that surround federal prisons.

These are workers who leave after their shifts. They may have been exposed and not know it.

The answer why has not been provided by the bureau but over the past three days, as some inmates arrive sick enough to be treated and tested at local hospitals, three more buses of inmates arrived at Allenwood, officials were told.

While prison staff is trained and take extreme precaution, some prisons are running short of personal protective equipment such as masks as the nation’s hospital need them.

Fausey said getting adequate personal care equipment has been a challenge and some facilities, such as Oakdale, borrowing from out-of-state.

Congress is trying to do its part. It put in a package $100 million for resources for the bureau to get necessary personal protective equipment to prison workers, Keller said.

“What can we do to stop these transfers?” asked Judy, a local resident.

As inmates move that moves the virus, Fausey said in response.

“We believe to only truly mitigate virus spread is to completely stop movement,” he said.

There are inmates who are in danger, too, with many having chronic illnesses.

“Most people would be impressed with the level of medical care afforded to the inmate population,” Fausey said.

The virus has added pressure to an already difficult job. Corrections officers’ obligation is to care for 174,000 offenders who are housed inside the nation’s federal prisons, Fausey said.

“Corrections officers walk into the face of adversity every day and do it to protect their communities and, despite facing an invisible monster they will keep doing it,” he said.

Keller called on people to contact their Congressman and state and local officials, such as Union County commissioners, who’ve asked for an immediate stoppage of the inmate transfer, especially as they arrive at USP Lewisburg and Allenwood.

“We’re asking for a 14 to 21 day stoppage of all inmate transfers,” Fausey said.

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