September 30, 2020

Duckworth Introduces Bill to Improve Disaster Response and Recovery Plans in Prisons


WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) introduced legislation that would ensure prison disaster response and recovery plans protect the health, safety and civil rights of incarcerated individuals during a presidential disaster declaration. Duckworth’s legislation follows reports of health and safety violations within the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and state prisons during recent major disasters such as Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. Correctional facilities must be fully prepared to provide safe conditions during all types of emergencies, including natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“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 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 and 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 to update its emergency preparedness training resources and publish a report examining the extent to which State and local correctional facilities implement and improve emergency procedures during a presidential disaster declaration.

“We applaud and endorse Sen. Duckworth’s Correctional Facility Disaster Preparedness Act,” DeAnna Hoskins, president and CEO of JustLeadershipUSA said. “Sen. Duckworth’s recommendation to expand the National Institute of Correction Advisory Board by permanently appointing a formerly incarcerated person to the Board is absolutely vital in protecting the lives of our incarcerated brothers and sisters. The recommendation of federal incentives for states and local governments to adopt emergency management policies is central to JustLeadershipUSA's #JustUS campaign, and will help save more lives. We are happy to lend our support and we urge Congress to pass this bill NOW.”

In May of last year, Duckworth and U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) urged the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) emergency preparedness efforts and how BOP protects inmates during natural and manmade disasters and other emergencies. Duckworth has also been a vocal advocate of address predatory phone rates in the criminal justice system. In June of last year, she introduced her Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act, which would help families keep in touch with their incarcerated family members, which studies have shown can help reduce recidivism rates and thereby save taxpayer dollars.