BOP Inspector General Rips State for Failure to Control COVID-19 at Lompoc in California
The 36-page, July 23, 2020 report found that continuing medical staff shortages and failure to follow BOP national guidelines for detection and treatment of COVID-19 put the Lompoc prison complex in a state of crisis, which had been beginning to abate in summer.
After two guards apparently introduced the virus into the prisons in February or March of 2020, it spread rapidly, and at one point over 75% of the prisoners at the FCI were found to be infected. According to a previous story in Prison Legal News [PLN, June 2020, p.32], “Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Lompoc, located in Santa Barbara County, holds 1,162 low-security prisoners, of whom 911 had tested positive for the novel Coronavirus that causes the disease … the highest number of cases in any BOP prison.”As of mid-July, more than 1,000 inmates had tested positive and four had died.
All of this came after March 2020 when Attorney General William Barr directed the BOP to make liberal use of home confinement, but this did not happen at Lompoc, the report said. “Despite this admonition, the data does not reflect that the BOP took immediate action at Lompoc,” it said. In mid-May, only 34 prisoners had been moved out of the complex, a fact that the acting warden blamed on a lack of halfway house space, although he did not explain why vulnerable prisoners had not been transferred to home confinement instead.
The report further noted that, “Based on the available data, the (OIG) estimated that, as of April 12, approximately 957 of the 1,775 prisoners in Lompoc’s low and minimum security facilities were potentially eligible for home confinement under existing authorities and BOP guidance.
By comparison, as detailed above, the BOP Central Office included 509 prisoners in the nine rosters it provided to FCC Lompoc for home confinement consideration between April 4 and May 15, illustrating the BOP failed to follow its own guidelines.
The OIG, in an earlier report, had criticized the BOP for failure to properly staff the medical departments of its prisons, and this problem was especially acute at Lompoc.
According to the report, “prior to the COVID-19 outbreak the institution’s medical staffing was at only 62 percent. We found that this preexisting shortage of medical staff may have negatively impacted ... Lompoc’s ability to conduct screenings of inmates and staff members for COVID-19 symptoms, a time-consuming process that had to be performed on a regular schedule while also providing routine medical care to the institution’s approximately 2,700 inmates.”
Even when the staff at Lompoc belatedly began to follow BOP guidelines on March 16, 2020, the report said, “its initial screening process was not fully effective.” Staffers identified minimal direction from senior management and a lack of adequate personal protective equipment as a factor in the rapid spread of the virus. The high number of infected individuals only became known when health officials in Santa Barbara County, concerned about a spread of the virus from the prisons into their communities, offered to test all prisoners and staff, as the BOP maintains a policy of only testing prisoners and staff if they show obvious signs of infection.
As is his custom in his reports, Horowitz said that he would make no specific recommendations. “Rather,” he said, “our reports are intended to assist the BOP and the Justice Department in identifying strategies to most effectively contain current and potential future COVID-19 outbreaks.” He promised, however, to review “the Department’s and the BOP’s use of early release authorities, especially home confinement, to manage the spread of COVID-19 within BOP facilities.”