All federal prisons in the United States have been placed on lockdown, with officials aiming to quell any potential violence that could arise behind bars as law enforcement prepares for potentially violent protests across the country in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, 20 January.
The lockdown at more than 120 federal Bureau of prisons facilities took effect at 12 a.m. Saturday, 16 January, according to an email to employees from the president of the union representing federal correctional officers.
”In light of current events occurring around the country, and out of an abundance of caution, the decision has been made to secure all institutions, the Bureau of prisons said in a statement.
”The lockdown decision is precautionary, no specific information led to it and it is not in response to any significant events occurring inside facilities, the bureau said.
To avoid backlash from inmates, the lockdown was not announced until after they were locked in their cells Friday evening.
Shane Fausey, the president of the council of prison locals, wrote in his email to staff that inmates should still be given access in small groups to showers, phones and email and can still be involved in preparing food and performing basic maintenance.
During a lockdown, inmates are kept in their cells most of the day and visiting is cancelled. Because of coronavirus, social visits only resumed in October, but many facilities have cancelled them again as infections spiked.
Since the first case was reported in March last year, 38,535 inmates and 3,553 staff have recovered from the virus. So far, 190 federal inmates and 3 staff members have died.
A bureau of prisons spokesman Justin Long said the agency was coordinating with officials at the justice department to be ready to deploy as needed. Earlier this month, about 100 officers were sent to the justice department’s headquarters to supplement security staff and were deputized by the US Marshals service and given special legal powers to enforce federal criminal statutes and protect federal property and personnel.
The specialized units typically respond to disturbances and other emergencies at prisons, such as riots, assaults, escapes and escape attempts, and hostage situations. Their absence can leave gaps in a prison’s emergency response and put the remaining staff at risk.
“The things that happen outside the walls could affect those working behind the walls, said Aaron McGlothin, a local union president at a federal prison in California.