WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) re-introduced legislation that would ensure prison disaster response and recovery plans protect the health, safety and civil rights of incarcerated individuals during natural disasters and public health emergencies. The legislation follows a U.S. Government Accountability Office report—which is part of Duckworth and U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan’s (D-NH) requested review of the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) emergency preparedness—found shortcomings in BOP’s COVID-19 response that impacted the health and safety of those incarcerated and exacerbated staffing shortages.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed alarming gaps in the response and preparedness plans currently used to safeguard the health, well-being, and dignity of incarcerated people during emergencies,” said Booker. “Our legislation will ensure Congress has the oversight to address these gaps and will help correctional facilities implement vital changes to protect the lives of incarcerated people during future natural disasters.”
“One of the many injustices exposed by this deadly pandemic is the fact that incarcerated individuals are particularly vulnerable during major disasters since they rely on staff to provide necessities and decide whether to evacuate to a safer location,” Duckworth said. “I’m re-introducing this bill today to help make sure that federal and state correctional agencies appropriately prioritize the health and safety of incarcerated individuals and staff during major disasters by better assessing damages sustained from these disasters, taking corrective actions to resolve preparedness gaps and seeking input from professionals with emergency management and health backgrounds, as well as formerly incarcerated individuals.”
The Correctional Facility Disaster Preparedness Act would:
· Strengthen oversight by requiring the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to provide an annual damage assessment report to Congress after a presidential disaster declaration or other major disaster on its effects on Federal inmates’ health and safety, as well as corrective actions to resolve preparedness gaps.
· Expand the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) Advisory Board membership by permanently appointing three new members: (1) a formerly incarcerated individual, (2) an emergency coordinator and (3) a public health expert with an educational and professional background working with communicable diseases to evaluate emergency preparedness and correctional policies.
· Require the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) Advisory Board conduct a field hearing on how correctional facilities can better incorporate considerations for incarcerated individuals in its emergency preparedness plans and recovery efforts.