Durbin: We Cannot Ignore The Impact Of The COVID-19 Pandemic On Incarcerated Individuals
Rate Of Infection For BOP Inmates Is 6.6 Times Greater Than The Rate In The General Population In The United States
WASHINGTON – During today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Examining Best Practices for Incarceration and Detention During COVID-19,” U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) called on the Senate Judiciary Committee to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on incarcerated individuals and to take advantage of smart, safe alternatives to incarceration that are readily available in order to protect inmates, detainees, staff, and the surrounding communities. Durbin noted that we cannot discuss the issue of incarceration in America without considering the impact of racism. Durbin also announced that he will be introducing legislation, joined by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), to establish an independent ombudsman to oversee federal detention facilities.
To date, more than 5,200 Federal Bureau of Prison (BOP) inmates and more than 600 staff have tested positive for COVID-19. This rate of infection is 6.6 times greater than the rate in the general population in the United States. At the same time, only two percent of the prison population has been transferred to home confinement. Tragically, at least 70 inmates in BOP custody have died—nearly all of whom had preexisting conditions that made them vulnerable. Several were within a few months of being released.
“We cannot discuss the issue of incarceration in America without considering the impact of racism. We hold more prisoners, by far, than any other country in the world. This is largely due to the failed war on drugs, which disproportionately and unjustly targeted people of color. While the majority of illegal drug users and dealers in our country are white, the vast majority of people incarcerated for drug offenses are African American or Latino. With that in mind, I’m disappointed – but not surprised – by the Bureau of Prisons’ failure to do more to protect individuals in its custody from the threat of COVID-19.”
Durbin continued, “When we turn the key in the lock on the door of a prison or a detention facility, we put our collective knees on the necks of the most vulnerable people in America. The question is will we be listening to their pleas for life?”
On March 23, Durbin and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the lead authors of the bipartisan First Step Act (FSA), led 12 of their colleagues in a bipartisan letter pressing the Trump Administration to take necessary steps to protect the health and wellbeing of federal prison staff and inmates in Federal custody, particularly by using their authority under the FSA. At the time of their letter, only three inmates and three staff members had tested positive for COVID-19. Two months later, more than 5,200 inmates and more than 600 staff have tested positive.
Video of Durbin’s opening statement in Committee is available here.
Audio of Durbin’s opening statement in Committee is available here.
Footage of Durbin’s opening statement in Committee is available here for TV Stations.
During today’s hearing, Durbin also pressed Henry Lucero, Executive Associate Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), on the Trump Administration’s plans to deport Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients, whether after “zero-tolerance” family separation is continuing in ICE family detention facilities, and reports that ICE has deported immigrants with COVID-19 without testing them first.
Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.
Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.
Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations.
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