Reports from FCI Danbury show little change as legislation demands change

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DANBURY — Conditions at the federal prison in the city appear to have improved little, despite calls from lawmakers last week for an investigation into allegations that the facility failed to follow COVID-19 isolation guidelines, according to claims by staff and of an attorney involved in a lawsuit against the prison.

Infections remain high, about 80 men – some said to be at higher risk – remain housed in the auditorium at Federal Correctional Institution Danbury and staff are still not provided with proper personal protective equipment, according to Sarah Russell, director of the Legal Clinic in Quinnipiac Provided University School of Law and Law Professor in Quinnipiac.

In a 1,500-word statement emailed to the News-Times, sent in response to the allegations, the Bureau of Prisons said in part that the agency follows CDC guidelines “as do community physicians and hospitals in relation to it.” on quarantine and medical isolation procedures as well as providing appropriate treatment.”

The agency also said it is “employing critical testing tools to help contain the spread of the virus and will continue to offer testing for inmates with COVID-19 symptoms, as well as mass or serial testing as needed.”

The BOP reports that the number of active COVID cases fell to 64 on Thursday, compared to 89 last week, but the attorney who communicated with those in detention questions the validity of those numbers.

The facility is a low-security federal correctional facility with a low-security satellite prison and a minimum-security satellite camp.

US Sentinels Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and US Representative Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., sent a letter Jan. 4 to the US Attorney General, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Acting Warden FCI Danbury reports in relation to “very worrying” that half of the women housed in a satellite camp have tested positive for COVID-19 and isolation guidelines have not been followed.

At the time, the Bureau of Prisons declined to confirm or deny the specific allegations, and to date, the agency has not sent a response to the letter, according to Blumenthal’s office.

Incarcerated individuals who have tested positive for COVID or are showing symptoms will be “medically isolated and provided medical care until deemed recovered by medical staff,” as outlined in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the BOP said .

“All institutions, including FCI Danbury, have areas designated for quarantine and medical isolation,” the office said. “Inmates will be treated at the facility unless medical staff determine they require hospitalization.”

On Wednesday, a week after the letter was sent, managers at the facility declared the emergency and activated their crisis response team, according to Shaun Boylan, executive vice president at AFGE Local 1661 and a staffer at FCI Danbury.

More positive COVID-19 cases have also been reported at the women’s facility since last week, Russell said.

Men in five units and in the auditorium told her there hadn’t been any unit-wide testing since January 5 or 6, she said.

There are also allegations of delays between reporting symptoms and testing, and delays in isolating those with symptoms. Some people told Russell they weren’t tested after their bunkmates tested positive.

“Without regular unit-wide testing, it is difficult to determine the extent of the outbreak and respond appropriately,” Russell said in an email to Hearst Connecticut.

The BOP uses PCR tests for the “bulk” portion of its tests, but FCI Danbury also uses rapid tests that provide results in 10 to 15 minutes, the bureau said.

Initial reports last week reported that 80 men were being held in an auditorium after their units were converted to isolation units. This is still the case, Russell said.

Many of the men were said to be from Unit M, a unit that houses people with special needs, such as the elderly, people with disabilities or veterans with PTSD, Russell said. While reports said there are now enough cots for everyone in the auditorium, Russell reported that conditions were “very crowded” with the cots being only two feet apart.

The auditorium reportedly has no smoke detectors or fire alarm pull stations. Communication for inmates accommodated there is restricted.

staff concerns

Inside, Boylan said workers are still not being given proper personal protective equipment and are being asked to reuse their PPE.

Russell also reported on this shortage, claiming that employees sometimes enter units without a mask.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the BOP, including FCI Danbury, has maintained an adequate supply of PPE and is using it in accordance with CDC guidelines,” the BOP said.

The lack of staff also continues to cause problems. Boylan reported that six employees are being transferred from positions ranging from educational programs to drug services to recreational specialties to fill in as correctional officers due to staff shortages. This change of duty involves different working hours and responsibilities. Staff not employed as correctional officers are being asked to take on a role and draw on a two to three week training course that took place for many years ago, he said.

“All staff assigned to correctional facilities are law enforcement officers and are considered correctional officers first, regardless of occupation,” the BOP said. “All staff receive the same level of training as correctional officers and are briefed at the time of hire to perform law enforcement duties in routine and non-routine situations.”

The agency confirmed that some staff members have taken on temporary security duties at some correctional facilities to fulfill the agency’s “public safety obligation.”

Boylan previously told Hearst Connecticut that staff shortages are also causing workers to show up sick and bring COVID to the facility.

The union protested in December, asking Congress to take action to resolve the staffing issues.

Covid cases

Since the outbreak’s initial peak last week, the Bureau of Prisons’ COVID-19 dashboard has shown a gradual decline in cases at the facility. The facility now ranks 33rd for infections among federal prisons nationwide, down from fifth place last week.

On Thursday, the dashboard showed FCI Danbury had 64 active cases among its population, with 11 staff members having positive cases.

But Russell said she doesn’t know what criteria the agency uses to remove someone from the count and whether that’s based on a five-day point after the first positive test or some other measure.

Although she doesn’t have an exact count, one woman told her that an estimated 12 people at the women’s facility tested positive during this latest outbreak.

“People who are incarcerated at FCI Danbury are incredibly scared,” said Kylee Verrill, a law student intern at Quinnipiac University School of Law’s law clinic. “Exposing people to such dangerous conditions two years into the pandemic represents a massive institutional failure.”

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