Federal prisons under national lockdown, most severe restrictions in 25 years

The federal Bureau of Prisons has ordered a national lockdown amid civil unrest in cities across the country in a move that resembled the agency's most severe restrictions at its facilities in 25 years.

Federal authorities, already struggling to contain deadly outbreaks of the coronavirus that has left 68 inmates dead, had imposed nationwide restrictions on inmate movements in March in an attempt to limit the virus' spread. But officials took the more restrictive action late Monday as a surge of violent clashes between protesters and police erupted after the death of George Floyd, whose neck was pinned under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. 

"In light of extensive protest activity occurring around the country, the BOP – in an abundance of caution – is implementing an additional, temporary security measure to ensure the good order and security of our institutions, as well as ensure the safety of staff and inmates," the agency said in a statement late Monday. "In securing our facilities, our hope is that this security measure is short-lived and that inmates will be restored to limited movement in the very near future."

Officials stressed that week's lockdown was not prompted by inmate actions, which in 1995 sparked a series of riots at several federal prisons across the system.

Appearing before a Senate panel Tuesday, Michael Carvajal, director of the vast federal prison system, acknowledged that the virus-related deaths were "difficult to accept" but defended the agency's response to the pandemic.

The director, who was appointed just weeks before the first wave of prison infections this spring, said fewer than half of the bureau's 122 facilities had reported infections. He said two-thirds of all cases were in seven prisons.

"There has been loss," Carvajal said. "Those deaths affect us deeply. The losses are difficult to accept."

Source USA Today

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