Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the Bureau of Prisons has canceled all visitation at all 122 of its facilities for the next 30 days. Additional updates will be added as we receive more information on this matter.
The Frank Report has now verified that the Bureau of Prisons has completely shut down visitation at all of its 122 facilities for the next 30 days. That includes visits from family members, friends, and attorneys (Attorneys can request a waiver – and those requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis).
As a result of the BOP visitation ban, Keith Alan Raniere – and the other +/- 1,600 inmates at MDC – will not be seeing any visitors for the next 30 days. Per the BOP ban, inmate movement between facilities will also be canceled for the next 30 days – in a further effort to block the spread of the coronavirus throughout federal prison facilities.
But, notwithstanding all the new measures that it has enacted in an attempt to block the spread of the coronavirus in its facilities, the BOP will still require new prisoners to report as previously scheduled. Gotta keep the hungry beast fed.
Similar measures have already been enacted in several state prisons throughout the country as part of the attempt to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.
In Illinois, for example, the Department of Corrections (DOC) has suspended all prison visits “until further notice”. To offset the canceled visits, the DOC is providing funds for each inmate to make two 20-minute phone calls – and one 15-minute video visit (More on the outrageous prices that inmates are charged for such things in a later post).
The Florida Department of Corrections has also suspended all in-person visits at state prisons until at least April 5th. With 96,000 inmates, Florida has the third-largest state prison population in the nation.
Several other states have indicated that they may also shut down prison visitations after this weekend in order to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.
Coronavirus Is Our New Reality
I happen to have some experience in dealing with major public health issues like the coronavirus. That comes from the years that I served as the director of the Missouri Department of Social Services (MDSS).
At that time, MDSS contained several divisions that are separate cabinet-level agencies in most states: e.g., the Division of Children & Family Services; the Division of Youth Services; the Medicaid Division; the Division of Aging; the Bureau for the Blind; and the one that took up a disproportionate amount of my time and attention, the Division of Health.
While I was in Missouri, the state experienced several major public health crises. These included:
– the permanent abandonment of the town of Times Beach after it was inundated with dioxin-laden floodwaters;
– the evacuation of the state’s largest office building in Kansas City, MO because of asbestos contamination; and
– the forced closure of the largest nursing home in the state because of patient abuse issues.
I’m certainly not an expert on public health issues – but I do know a lot about what happened behind the scenes when we encountered major public health issues in Missouri. And I think a lot of that knowledge is applicable to the current crisis we are experiencing with respect to the coronavirus.
Conditions at MDC Are Ideal for a Coronavirus Crisis
As most Frank Report readers know, I also have first-hand knowledge of the conditions and operations at MDC. That’s because I spent 28-months there as a guest of the Bureau of Prisons.
At this point, I think it is inevitable that the coronavirus will show up at most, if not all, prisons and jails throughout the country. And when it does, it will often result in a major health crisis – and numerous prisoner deaths.
A place like MDC could produce truly horrific results.
That’s because, in addition to the overcrowding and bad food that are common in most jails and prisons, MDC has a few “special attributes” that I think makes it especially susceptible to something like the coronavirus.
Here are ten reasons why I expect that the coronavirus will infect a much higher than average percentage of the inmates at MDC.
First and foremost, MDC does not provide any outdoor space for the 1,600+ inmates that are housed there. Except for the handful of inmates who spend a few minutes outside each day on their way to off-site work assignments, the closest that MDC inmates come to fresh air and sunshine is when they look through an 8’ high chain-link fence that serves as one wall in a small area that is set aside for “recreation”.
Second, MDC offers no real exercise equipment for inmates. While a few units may have a ping pong table, “recreation” in most units is limited to watching TV, card games, dominoes, chess, and a “walking room” that requires 80-90 laps to complete one mile.
Third, the living conditions are generally unsanitary. Having 120 grown men living together in one area – and sharing 6 showers, 6 sinks, 6 toilets, and 15-20 dining tables – basically ensures that everyone ends up trading illnesses back and forth.
Fourth, MDC’s HVAC system only has two modes: “On” and “Off”. What that means is that it’s often freezing inside the facility from June 1st through September 30th, which is when the air conditioning is turned on – and stifling from October 1st through May 31st, which is when the heat is turned on.
Fifth, there is a constant influx of new inmates coming into the facility. Because the vast majority of the inmates at MDC are either awaiting trial or awaiting sentencing, there are new prisoners arriving almost every day. They, of course, bring with them whatever germs and viruses that were at their prior residence.
Sixth, hand sanitizers like Purell are banned – and actually treated as contraband. That’s because they contain alcohol.
Seventh, the number of medical staff is insufficient to deal with any serious disease. In addition to being chronically understaffed, the Medical Unit at MDC also suffers from the fact that it does not attract – or retain – high-quality staff.
Eighth, taking prisoners to outside medical providers is complicated and costly. Whenever an inmate is taken to an outside medical appointment, he has to be shackled – and accompanied by at least one armed officer. When they return, the inmate must be examined by a member of the MDC medical staff before he can be brought back to his unit.
Ninth, personal hygiene is non-existent for some inmates. No matter how much turnover occurs in a unit, there always seems to be 2-3 guys who simply don’t believe in showering and/or in washing their bedding or clothing. That often results in things like bedbugs, lice and all sorts of other little creatures showing up.
Tenth, no one really cares. Guards and administrators at prisons are not particularly interested in the health and well-being of inmates – and taking inmates down to the Medical Unit requires paperwork and time. For that reason, unless an inmate has a very visible need for medical help, it may be weeks before they will be taken to the Medical Unit (I knew several inmates who inflicted bleeding wounds on themselves so that they could get taken to the Medical Unit for less visible medical issues).
MDC Guards May Stop Coming to Work
Given their relatively low wages – and the higher-than-average risk that they have to deal with every day – it will not surprise me if the prison guards at MDC start calling in sick when the coronavirus shows up at MDC.
That’s why I think it’s quite possible that we’ll end up with members of the National Guard – or even the Army – being brought in to serve as substitute guards.
Stay Informed, Stay Alert & Follow Instructions
Hopefully, the various cancellations and postponements that are taking place all over the country will, in fact, help to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus pandemic (All that means is that we’ll be able to stretch out the time it takes for the same number of people to get infected – which, given our limited resources for treating coronavirus patients, is actually a very important thing to do).
But even if we’re successful in doing that, it is vitally important that every person stay informed about what’s going on, stay alert for situations that may expose them to the virus, and follow instructions (Yeah, washing your hands as often as possible is extremely important!).
And just remember that as unhappy as you might be because of all the inconveniences you’re experiencing right now, things could be much, much worse.
You could, for example, be one of the 2.3 million Americans who are currently incarcerated – and who will be facing a much higher threat level from the coronavirus than the rest of us.