March 29, 2019

Duckworth, Hassan Requests Examination of Federal and State Prison Emergency Preparedness Procedures


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] — U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Oversight and Emergency Management, urged the Government Accountability Office (GAO) today to investigate the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) emergency preparedness efforts. The Senators wrote to Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro requesting a GAO study on how BOP protects inmates during natural and manmade disasters and other emergencies. Duckworth and Hassan also questioned how select state governments use FEMA funds to aid correctional facilities after disaster damage. The request comes after 1,200 inmates at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York last month were without heat and electricity after an electrical fire at the prison.

 “We recognize that disasters are often unpredictable. However, it is imperative that BOP — including its contract facilities — is adequately prepared for disasters and emergencies to provide inmates with adequate food, water, shelter, and medical care,” the Senators wrote. “Inmates are particularly vulnerable during emergencies and disasters as they rely on officials from correctional facilities to provide basic necessities and to decide whether to evacuate to a safer location.”

 In 2017, the U.S. experienced more than $300 billion in damages from natural disasters. Natural disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey and Michael forced evacuations of inmates at BOP facilities with deteriorating conditions which included loss of electricity and lack of access to medications and drinkable water. 

 Duckworth has been outspoken about the need to reform our criminal justice system. Last year, Duckworth introduced the Inmate Calling Technical Corrections Act, legislation to would address long-standing concerns regarding predatory inmate calling rates at prison facilities across the U.S. and would affirm the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) authority to address a market failure to protect family, clergy, and counsel who communicate with prisoners, inmates and detainees.

A PDF of the letter can be found here.