By Rick Sallinger

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4)– Behind the walls at the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood there are dangerous criminals and a dangerous virus. Those who work there say they are at risk of entering each day without any COVID-19 screening.

(credit: CBS)

James Simmerman, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 709 says, “Our members, their families, they are worried about bringing it into their houses, into the communities, into the schools.”

His union represents the corrections officers. He says COVID-19 impacted 99% of the inmates the first time around and now it’s back.

Most of the staff and prisoners are vaccinated and under orders to wear masks.

Chris Janssen, the union vice president, says those rules aren’t always obeyed.

(credit: CBS)

“When you have people in our community in there for not following the rules, many of them don’t wear it, and that creates a burden in itself. You may catch inmates not wearing their masks all the time,” said Janssen.

In part because of the virus, guard staffing is at 65% of strength with non-guards filling in according to the union. A form of lockdown called “modified operations” has been in place, but is due to be lifted next week without testing.

“It feels like we’re in a tinderbox waiting to explode again,” said Simmerman.

(credit: CBS)

He says lack of testing and limited isolation of inmates with symptoms have made this place even more dangerous than normal. CBS4 asked the Warden’s office about the complaints, they said they will respond, but not on this day.

The Bureau of Prisons responded to CBS4 with this statement: The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is committed to ensuring appropriate staffing levels to maintain the safety and security of staff, inmates, and the institution. We are actively seeking to fill vacant positions with particular focus on Correctional Officer vacancies and we continue to evaluate and use a breadth of employment incentives to attract and retain staff. The BOP uses a variety of social media networks and platforms to advertise and network with potential candidates. We have an updated and targeted approach towards branding and marketing in order to attract quality candidates to our organization. Recruitment efforts include, but are not limited to, Google Ad campaigns; Facebook, LinkedIn, and Indeed Ads and job postings; recruitment videos on YouTube, billboard advertisements, and virtual recruitment events, as well as recruitment through various professional organizations, to include the military.

In early March 2021, the BOP embarked on an unprecedented hiring initiative to bring on 1,000 new employees within 120 days. As a result of this initiative, 2,088 new BOP employees were hired. The Hiring Initiative has helped BOP increase our staffing levels to include our number of correctional officers. The agency continues to focus on hiring and retaining staff nationally, including offering hiring incentives where appropriate. Furthermore, the BOP offers various employment incentives to remain competitive with private and federal entities.

The BOP, to include the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Englewood, continues to maintain adequate staffing levels to meet it’s mission. To learn more about the BOP’s efforts to increase staffing please visit our website here https://www.bop.gov/resources/news/20211004_bop_hiring.jsp.    

FCI Englewood is currently on a Modified Operational Level 3. Modified Operational Levels are categorized as follows: Level 1 Operations-Minimal Modifications, Level 2 Operations- Moderate Modifications, and Level 3 Operations-Intense Modifications. With each increase or decrease in the operations level at a particular facility, various COVID-19 mitigation strategies will be implemented or reduced. These strategies are similar to those implemented in surrounding communities where guidance regarding the use of facial coverings, social distancing, and limiting capacities or restricting access to certain areas were utilized. The goal of the Modified Operations Plan is to formalize a standardized response to real-time COVID-19 data which maximizes inmate access to programming and reentry needs, while proactively enhancing inmate and staff safety focused on COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

The Modified Operational Level is monitored daily with final authority rendered by the Warden of each respective location.  Each Warden has authority to tailor and apply restrictions in accordance with CDC guidance, based on specific data available for their respective facility.  The current visiting status for each facility will be posted on their specific public website found here https://www.bop.gov/locations/list.jsp.  Please continue to check this page often as it will update periodically with status changes.  For more information on our BOP COVID-19 Operational Levels, please see our public website found here https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/covid19_modified_operations_guide.jsp.    

COVID-19 transmission rates among staff and inmates in the BOP’s correctional institutions generally mirror those found in local communities. The BOP is using critical testing tools to help mitigate the spread of the virus and continues to provide testing for COVID-19 symptomatic inmates, as well as mass testing or serial testing when indicated, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The bulk of our testing conducted by the BOP is rRT-PCR testing through commercial labs. However, FCI Englewood is also utilizing the Abbott ID NOW instrument for Rapid RNA testing. Test results are typically received within 10-15 minutes.

While a prison setting is unique when addressing a pandemic, the care and treatment of an identified positive COVID-19 case is not. The BOP follows CDC guidance, the same as community doctors and hospitals, with regard to quarantine and medical isolation procedures, along with providing appropriate treatment. The majority of inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 are asymptomatic (positive with no symptoms) and do not require the level of care offered in a hospital setting.

All inmates who are positive for COVID-19, or symptomatic, are medically isolated and provided medical care until they are considered recovered by medical staff as determined by CDC guidelines listed at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html. All institutions, to include FCI Englewood, have areas identified for quarantine and medical isolation. Inmates are treated at the institution unless medical staff determine they require hospitalization.

Additionally, staff, contractors, and other visitors to the institution also must undergo a screening and temperature check by a staff member or contractor wearing appropriate PPE prior to entering the facility, with those who register a temperature of 100.4° Fahrenheit or higher denied access to the building.

For those staff that are presenting with symptoms or have been identified as a close contact of a COVID-19 diagnosed individual, given the critical role our staff play with regard to public safety, we have developed a letter for staff who are in close contact of a COVID-19 positive individual to provide to the local Health Department, to ensure such persons receive priority COVID-19 testing.

As a reasonable accommodation, staff exempted from this mandate requires compliance with BOP COVID-19 testing protocols to ensure the health and safety of staff, the inmate population, and the community, such testing protocols which are subject to change, currently require a negative COVID-19 test result within seven days of entry into any BOP facility. Staff must continue to exercise usual safety precautions required of their position and/or work assignment, to include hand washing, wearing of face covering & other personal protective equipment (PPE) as appropriate, and keeping distance from others.

FCI Englewood has an ample number of trained medical personnel who provide essential medical, dental, and mental health (psychiatric) services in a manner consistent with accepted community clinical guidelines for a correctional environment. FCI Englewood uses licensed and credentialed, professional health care providers to practice evidence-based medicine. All inmates have daily and regular access to medical care and appointments, and medical staff conduct daily rounds throughout each facility. Each patient is independently treated on a case-by-case basis, and treatment is provided as clinically indicated. All inmates are managed per CDC guidelines.

A basic overview of the BOP’s provision of health services can be found on our website accessible here https://www.bop.gov/inmates/custody_and_care/.

The BOP currently offers all three COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the US and is following CDC guidance, to include both 3rd doses for immunocompromised persons, as well as booster doses for those meeting the times frames specified by the CDC (at least 6 months between primary and booster doses for mRNA vaccines, and at least 2 months for Johnson and Johnson).

We report a significant amount of statistical information on our public website daily. Given the fluid nature of the pandemic, we are only providing the accumulative number of total doses administered as found on our Coronavirus resource page here https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/index.jsp, and are not breaking this number down to reflect booster shots. If you click the blue link “Learn more about vaccinations and view individual facility stats +” under the COVID-19 Vaccine Implementation heading, you will find the total number of completed staff and inmate vaccinations under the subheadings “Full Staff Inoculations Completed” and “Full Inmate Inoculations Completed.” A full inoculation means the second dose of a scheduled two-dose vaccine, or a single dose of a scheduled one-dose vaccine, has been administered.

For more information about COVID-19, to include the BOP’s COVID-19 Action Plan, the number of inmates tested, the number of open, positive test, COVID-19 cases for staff and inmates, and the official number of COVID-19 related deaths, please visit the BOP’s Coronavirus resource page on our public website here https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/index.jsp. Scroll down to the “Full Breakdown and Additional Details” link under the “COVID-19 Cases” heading for the number of cases at each institution.

Due to the rapidly evolving nature of this public health crisis, the BOP will update the open COVID-19 confirmed-positive test numbers, the number of COVID-19 tests conducted, and the number of COVID-19 related deaths every weekday at 3:00 p.m. The positive test numbers are based on the most recently available confirmed results involving open cases from across the agency as reported by the BOP’s Office of Occupational Health and Safety. The number of open positive test cases only reflects current cases that have not been resolved. The total number of open, positive test, COVID-19 cases fluctuates up and down as new cases are added and resolved cases are removed.

For more information about FCI Englewood, please see their public website here https://www.bop.gov/locations/institutions/eng/.

Rick Sallinger