Federal Bureau of Prisons guilty of deliberate indifference in failing to protect healthy prisoners from COVID-19

In prison, there’s no sure way to escape the coronavirus. Not enough precautions are taken, sometimes because of “deliberate indifference.”

by Keith ‘Malik’ Washington

Soon I will be on mandatory quarantine. All the prisoners who arrive here at USP Pollock and all prisoners who are preparing to leave must submit to a period of quarantine.

The unit that is utilized as the housing space for all quarantined prisoners is B-3, which is located in B-building here at USP Pollock, where I have been housed since December 2019. Until now, USP Pollock has been one of the few success stories in regard to the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. While other prisons have been ravaged by the deadly coronavirus, USP Pollock has remained unscathed and untouched. Recently that good fortune has changed.

For years, I have operated in the capacity of an investigative journalist and reporter for the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper. As I prepare for my release, I continue to provide the public with details in regard to the conditions inside Amerikan prisons and jails. 

Since March 2020 I have been focusing on the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently there has been a surge in COVID-19 cases in Florida, Arizona and Texas as well as California. During the past three weeks, USP Pollock has been accepting prisoners from county jails and detention centers within the south central region.

What has become extremely problematic is the US Marshal Service bringing COVID-19 infected prisoners to USP Pollock. This week I spoke to a BOP medical staff member here about the recent introduction of COVID-19 positive prisoners to the compound. The employee requested to remain anonymous. I will honor their request. 

The BOP employee said that during the week of July 27, 2020, the US Marshal Service brought four federal prisoners from the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area. Out of those four, two tested positive for COVID-19. 

What is remarkable, the employee said, was that the USP Pollock prison administration instructed the medical department to house these infected prisoners on Unit B-3. Unit B-3 is exclusively used to house prisoners who are being discharged into the community as well as prisoners coming into the facility. 

US District Court Judge Marcia Cooke has recently ruled that mass quarantining prisoners, a practice known as “cohorting,” is out of compliance with both CDC guidelines for correctional facilities and ICE’s pandemic response requirements.

The employee stated that since the coronavirus is an airborne pathogen, it can be easily passed to otherwise healthy prisoners who have found themselves trapped on the so-called quarantine unit of B-3. The employee stated that USP Pollock is out of compliance with the CDC guidelines and that the BOP has been falsifying weekly pandemic response requirement compliance reports. 

Other employees here at USP Pollock have voiced their frustration with the US Marshal Service’s disregard for the health, safety and welfare of both prisoners and staff here. 

Recently I have requested that my support team contact the administration here at USP Pollock as well as the BOP’s central office in Washington, D.C., in order to request that I not be housed on Unit B-3 where COVID-19 positive prisoners are being housed with perfectly healthy prisoners. The environment on the B-3 quarantine unit is a closed environment. 

There are no windows that can be opened and it has been proven that the HVAC system can transmit the deadly coronavirus. As a 52-year-old who suffers from a chronic seizure condition, I believe the BOP is guilty of “deliberate indifference” in regard to the handling of COVID-19 positive prisoners. 

US District Court Judge Marcia Cooke has recently ruled that mass quarantining prisoners, a practice known as “cohorting,” is out of compliance with both CDC guidelines for correctional facilities and ICE’s pandemic response requirements. Please see the article written by Christopher Zoukis in the July 2020 edition of the Prison Legal News: “With Lives of Immigrant Detainees at Risk to COVID-19, Federal Judge forces ICE’s Hand.” 

I have personally warned Complex Warden Chris McConnell about the airborne transmission of this deadly coronavirus. I ask that if I should contract this virus while on quarantine on Unit B-3 here at USP Pollock that the agency be held liable in a court of law. 

Contrary to popular opinion, Prisoner Lives Matter! And I will continue to fight for the health, welfare and safety of all. 

Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win. All Power to the People.

Keith “Malik” Washington is assistant editor of the Bay View, studying and preparing to serve as editor after his release in September 2020. He is also co-founder and chief spokesperson for the End Prison Slavery in Texas Movement, a proud member of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and an activist in the Fight Toxic Prisons campaign and Liberate the Caged Voices. Visit his website at ComradeMalik.com. Send our brother some love and light: Keith “Malik” Washington, 34481-037, USP Pollock, P.O. Box 2099, Pollock LA 71467. He is, however, expected to arrive in San Francisco on Sept. 3, 2020.