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Federal Bureau of Prisons Locks Down Prisoners and Takes Away Communications Amid Protests

After protests broke out in several cities in response to George Floyd’s death, the agency ordered the first nationwide lockdown in 25 years.

U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute.
bop.gov

Federal Bureau of Prisons Locks Down Prisoners and Takes Away Communications Amid Protests

After protests broke out in several cities in response to George Floyd’s death, the agency ordered the first nationwide lockdown in 25 years.


In response to the ongoing protests across the country, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has ordered prisoners confined to their cells and stripped them of outside communications. 

The nationwide lockdown went into effect on Monday at 4 p.m. “out of an abundance of caution,” a BOP spokesperson wrote in an email to The Appeal. “In light of extensive protest activity occurring around the country, the BOP … is implementing an additional, temporary security measure to ensure the good order and security of our institutions, as well as ensure the safety of staff and inmates,” the spokesperson said. 

The spokesperson said that the move is “precautionary” and not in reaction to a “significant” event occurring in a BOP facility. The agency did not respond to a question about whether prisoners in BOP facilities took any actions related to the protests over police brutality in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. 

A BOP staff member, who asked not to be identified because they feared retaliation, said that the system’s roughly 165,600 prisoners are confined to their cells or units 24 hours a day and do not get privileges such as phone, computers, and showers under this lockdown. This contrasts with the “modified lockdown” BOP implemented in March because of coronavirus. During that lockdown, prisoners were still permitted those privileges and some movement. 

At Pekin Camp, a minimum security women’s facility in Illinois, officials removed televisions, phones, and video visitation, two prisoners said. “Everybody is behaving so it’s not like we got in trouble. I just had to wait in a line for an hour to send this message.” reads a message sent through a prison communications system in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Another wrote, “I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON OUT THERE BUT THEY ARE TAKING OUR PHONES AND VIDEO VISIT AND TV FOR TWO WEEKS.” The messages were shared with The Appeal by Amy Povah, who is formerly incarcerated and the founder of CAN-DO Clemency, a prisoner advocacy organization.

BOP did not respond to questions about the situation at Pekin. 

Povah said that aside from the two prisoners at Pekin, neither she nor 15 people who participate in a prison pen pal group she helps run had heard from any of the federal prisoners who they regularly communicate with since Monday.

“We need to think about easing tension, and I think it would be wise to allow people to still access, at the very least, email,” she said.

“You’re kind of confirming why we’re in the situation we’re in as a country, where the rage has erupted because people are sick of the oppression, particularly against minorities,” Povah said. “If the cops were so comfortable with the actions they were taking against George Floyd with someone filming so closely, just imagine what goes on inside prisons.”

The lockdown, first reported by Government Executive, is the first nationwide lockdown the BOP has enforced in 25 years. The previous lockdown, in October 1995, went into effect after rebellions at men’s facilities followed Congress’s refusal to reduce crack cocaine sentences so they were equal to other drug sentences. 

In addition to the lockdown, the BOP has sent its Crisis Management Teams to Miami and Washington, D.C., after receiving a request for their services from Attorney General William Barr. Those teams are “highly trained tactical units” that respond to prison disturbances and crowd control scenarios, a BOP spokesperson told The Appeal.