DC inmates report limited access to coronavirus tests, medical care during pandemic

D.C. inmates in federal prisons said that a majority of them had limited access to coronavirus tests and medical care during the pandemic and reported inconsistencies in mask-wearing among prison staff, according to a report by an independent oversight body.

The District of Columbia Corrections Information Council, or CIC, released the report dated July 2, which had more than 500 respondents from 90 facilities across the country where inmates from D.C. are held.

Congress ordered D.C. inmates to be transferred to correctional facilities in the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) system in 1997. The District closed its last department of corrections prison in 2001.

The survey covered the time period from June 2020 to Aug. 15, 2020.

According to the finding, 81% of respondents said that they were not tested for COVID-19.

Twenty respondents said that their facility was doing temperature screening but not COVID-19 testing, and the frequency of temperature screening varied from every other day to every other week.

“We are not tested here, even though there was a positive case in my housing unit. The staff are not tested. They are given only temperature checks,” according to one respondent.

Several inmates reported concerns that staff was testing positive but returning to work or moving
between facilities located in COVID-19 “hot spots” and those with limited exposure. The BOP’s response, the report recorded, is “as much as possible, staff are being assigned to the same posts and not rotating.”

The BOP’s response to the claim about staff testing said that routine testing of asymptomatic staff in other critical infrastructure sectors have been voluntary to include corrections. BOP also said that it has partnered with local health departments since April 2020 for voluntary testing of staff.

Survey respondents also expressed concern about staff not wearing masks, wearing them inconsistently or wearing them incorrectly.

“Some [staff] wear masks, some don’t and it’s very scary and overwhelming because they’re putting my life in danger. If I wear my mask to make sure I’m safe as well trying to protect staff from me then I believe they should do the same,” one respondent wrote.

As for treatment for COVID-19, one respondent shared being hospitalized with coronavirus symptoms and testing positive, and later being returned to his cell while still having active symptoms. The report said that his cellmates also later tested positive.

Three people reported that when they tested positive, they were sent to a disciplinary unit to be quarantined.

“When any inmate is tested, they have to go into the discipline unit for quarantine and treated as if we have done something wrong,” one inmate said.

Others were sent to a parts of their facilities that had no running water or soap or had not been in operation for several years.

“I did not or do not give up my rights to be safe, treated by policy in a consistent humane and reasonable manner. I did not come to prison to be a medical experiment,” one person wrote.

Furthermore, 37% reported that they had not been able to receive other types of medical care in the last 60 days, including receiving regular care for chronic conditions and regular monitoring of high blood pressure.

Another finding was the wide range of experience reported by D.C. inmates regarding cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces and areas, such as phones, computers and other common-area items.

The CIC’s report acknowledged that BOP facilities “do not easily lend themselves to social distancing, and systems for distributing resources are complex. Nevertheless, the BOP is responsible for the safety and welfare of over 170,000 staff and residents and must meet this challenge.”

The report said there were discrepancies between the BOP’s stated polices and D.C. inmates’ experiences, and shared some recommendations for the BOP, including implementing widespread rapid result testing to all; a policy of limiting resident movement and following screening and quarantine protocols; ensuring easy access to hygiene and cleaning products; ensuring access to masks and personal protective equipment and a universal use of mask among staff; and ensuring access to medical care.


More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.


Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2021 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up