Dear Elected Official,
As your constituent, I am writing in support of the Correctional Facility Disaster Preparedness Act (S.2592),1 which was re-introduced by Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) in August 2021.
This critical bill must be moved through the Senate. The social and economic havoc wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change on American correctional facilities (CFs) has called attention to the need to improve our responses to disasters that cause avoidable damage to lives and property.2 Most CFs are not equipped to manage any kind of natural or human-made disaster, as there are currently no federal laws in place dictating disaster preparedness protocols in CFs. This leaves the nearly two million disproportionately Black, Brown, and/or poor individuals who are incarcerated, and the 400,000+ people who work in CFs, vulnerable to said disasters.4 5 6 7 8
Disasters in the past have shown what happens when there are no plans in place to properly manage them.9 10 11 12 13 There have been issues with vaccine/PPE distribution, staffing, CF overcrowding, and data reporting relative to COVID-19.14 15 16 At present, over half a million cases of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have been reported from within CFs nationally, and 2,869 of their residents have been killed by the virus.17 That’s 2,869 people who did not get their families’ comfort or final goodbyes. This is unacceptable.
No one deserves to die behind bars, and CFs have a constitutional obligation to protect the health, safety, and rights of their residents and staff.18 (S.2592) addresses these obligations by instructing the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to create an annual summary report recording “the ability of the Bureau of Prisons and any existing contract prison to uphold the health, safety, and civil rights of the correctional population” among facilities impacted by disasters.19
The bill would also appoint officials responsible for carrying out the corrective plans, make amendments to the members of the National Institute of Corrections’ Advisory Board that will broaden its expertise, and require the National Institute of Corrections to hold a public field hearing on how these goals will be achieved. All of this will ensure that CFs and staff, especially correctional officers, have the support they need during emergencies. For example, having fewer incarcerated individuals will increase officers’ safety and reduce their management burden.20 21
However, as long as we continue to ignore this lack of planning, the criminal justice system will not be able to respond proactively and in the interest of human dignity in times of crises. Black and Brown people will continue to die behind bars. They are human beings, and their lives matter. To protect the health and safety of this population across the United States, we ask that you continue your work to pass the Correctional Facility Disaster Preparedness Act (S.2592).
7 https://www.commonwealthfund.org/sites/default/files/2020-11/PDF_Camhi_Medicaid role health justice system_exhibits.pdf