Congressman José E. Serrano

Representing the 15th District of New York

Congressman Serrano Presses for Answers from U.S. Marshals Service on Its Handling of Coronavirus Pandemic

Apr 8, 2020
Press Release
Reports Point to Positive Cases Among Those In Custody of the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) But More Information Lacking

Washington, DC –Congressman José E. Serrano, Chairman of the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee, sent a letter the Director of the United States Mashals Service (USMS) inquiring about the agency’s efforts and plans to protect its employees and detainees from the coronavirus pandemic. The letter also asks for additional information on the USMS’ efforts to reduce the pre-trial detention population, the scope of the outbreak at facilities used by the USMS, and their plans to prevent serious outbreaks of COIVD-19 among those in their custody. According to recent reports, multiple pre-trial detainees in USMS custody recently tested positive to the virus. Previous reports have shown that USMS does not conduct proper oversight of the network of federal, state, local, and private prisons that it uses to house pre-trial detainees, that it sends detainees to facilities known not to comply with basic medical standards, and that it has failed to adequately keep track of safety records in these facilities.

“Because of the Marshals Service’s decentralized detention system, detainees under your purview are housed at a variety of federal, state, local, and private prison facilities.  With more than 1,200 contracts, this raises potential safety issues as detainees are transferred between facilities, to or from federal courthouses, and because of the difficulty in overseeing the sheer number of locations used where safety standards must be met.  Prior to this outbreak, previous reports indicated a concerning lack of oversight for the safety and well-being of those in your care, and a troubling failure to track the safety records of facilities you use.  I want to ensure that as our nation responds to this ongoing crisis, that you are focused on the health of your employees and those who are detained and under your responsibility,” Chairman Serrano wrote.

As Chairman of the House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, Serrano funds the Department of Justice, including the U.S. Marshals Service.

Text of Letter:

April 7, 2020

Director Donald W. Washington

Office of the Director

United States Marshals Service

Washington, DC  20530-0001

 

Dear Director Washington:

I write to you with urgent questions about the health, safety, and welfare of your employees and federal pre-trial detainees during the coronavirus pandemic.  I am concerned by recent reports of positive cases among those in the custody of the United States Marshals Service (USMS) and are seeking further information about how you are addressing this current crisis.

Because of the Marshals Service’s decentralized detention system, detainees under your purview are housed at a variety of federal, state, local, and private prison facilities.  With more than 1,200 contracts, this raises potential safety issues as detainees are transferred between facilities, to or from federal courthouses, and because of the difficulty in overseeing the sheer number of locations used where safety standards must be met.  Prior to this outbreak, previous reports indicated a concerning lack of oversight for the safety and well-being of those in your care, and a troubling failure to track the safety records of facilities you use.  I want to ensure that as our nation responds to this ongoing crisis, that you are focused on the health of your employees and those who are detained and under your responsibility.

I believe it is vitally important to understand the current situation within the Federal Prisoner Detention system, as well as your plans to address challenges caused by the pandemic.  Towards that end, I request that you answer the following questions by April 15th:

  1. What mitigation measures are in place to ensure that USMS employees have the equipment they need to avoid COVID-19 infections?
  2. How many USMS employees have tested positive for COVID-19?  Where are these employees located?
  3. How is the USMS keeping track of COVID-19 outbreaks at contracted facilities?
  4. How many federal, state, local, or private prison facilities holding USMS detainees currently have had positive cases of coronavirus?
  5. How many detainees in your care have tested positive for COVID-19?  How many have required hospitalization?
  6. Where were these detainees held prior to their diagnosis?
  7. Are the Marshals working with the U.S. Attorneys to reduce the need for pre-trial detention services?  If so, has there been a reduction in your average daily pre-trial detainee numbers?
  8. How many people have been released from pre-trial detention since March 13, 2020 based on a determination that they are medically vulnerable to COVID-19 infection?
  9. Are the Marshals limiting transfers of detainees from one location to another at this time?
  10. Are the Marshals screening individuals for possible coronavirus infections prior to their detention or transfer?
  11. What mitigation measures are in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among those held by the U.S. Marshals Service?

It is important to note that the Marshals have significant input into health and safety conditions at contracted facilities.  I expect you to work with the owners of the various contracted facilities that you use to implement the best safety standards to ensure the well-being of your employees and detainees.  Thank you for your efforts, and I look forward to your response.

                                                                                        Sincerely,

                                                                                        José E. Serrano

Chairman

Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies

 

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Congressman José E. Serrano has represented The Bronx in Congress since 1990.