New DOJ OIG Report Finds Contractor-Operated Prisons More Effective In Mitigating Covid-19 Risk
February 17, 2021
“The USMS’s controls for COVID-19 preparedness, prevention, and management are weaker for IGA facilities than for contract facilities.”
“For its contract facilities, the USMS’s POD [Prisoner Operations Division] acted quickly to mitigate emerging risks of COVID-19 by ensuring that each facility had a plan in place to follow applicable CDC guidelines. However, the POD did not react as quickly to mitigate risks at the IGA facilities.” –U.S. Department of Justice Office of Inspector General Report, February 2021
In a new report assessing the response of the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that contractor-operated facilities were safer, more accountable, and more responsive in mitigating risk from COVID-19 than government-run facilities.
Here are some key highlights emphasized in the OIG’s findings:
Better Oversight and Accountability:
The OIG determined that USMS contractor-operated prison facilities have better oversight and accountability than the 873 state and local jails where USMS sends approximately 70% of its population under Intergovernmental Agreements (IGA).
“In particular, the 873 facilities operated by the USMS’s state and local government partners under Intergovernmental Agreements (IGA) do not receive the same scrutiny from the USMS as do the USMS contract facilities, although the IGA facilities house approximately 70 percent of the USMS’s 61,000 prisoners.” (p.1)
“The USMS’s controls for COVID-19 preparedness, prevention, and management are weaker for IGA facilities than for contract facilities.” (p.4)
“[W]hile the USMS has the same responsibility and accountability for prisoners in both IGA and contract facilities, the nature of the at-will intergovernmental agreements does not provide the same ability for control that is provided in contracts.” (p. 7)
More Responsive and Quicker Implementation of CDC Mitigation Guidance:
The OIG found that efforts to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 were taken much more quickly at USMS’s 14 contractor-operated facilities, citing the contractually obligated management, oversight and compliance requirements in place.
“For its contract facilities, the USMS’s POD acted quickly to mitigate emerging risks of COVID-19 by ensuring that each facility had a plan in place to follow applicable CDC guidelines. However, the POD did not react as quickly to mitigate risks at the IGA facilities.” (p. 3)
“The contractors provided plans within about 2 weeks, and the POD staff quickly reviewed and accepted each plan.” (p. 4)
“By May 2020, the POD began conducting unannounced, in-person assessments of each contract facility’s implementation of its COVID-19 plan. The POD also began obtaining daily reports from each contract facility on: the number of staff who called in sick, the number of staff who tested positive for COVID-19, the number of USMS prisoners quarantined because of suspected contact or exposure, and the number of test kits and N95 protective masks on hand.” (p. 4)
By contrast, the report notes that at the time of the OIG’s review, USMS could not confirm if any of the 873 government-run facilities it worked with had implemented a COVID-19 response plan based on the latest CDC guidance.
Transparency Leads to Better Precautions and Safer Facilities:
The OIG emphasized that contractor-operated facilities collect and share more data than their government-run counterparts, which is essential toward effective management of the pandemic in USMS facilities.
“Contract facilities provide daily updates to the POD related to the number of prisoners who tested positive for COVID-19, the number of USMS prisoners quarantined because of suspected contact or exposure, the number of staff who were sick or tested positive, the number of test kits on hand, and the number of N95 protective masks on hand for each facility. In contrast, IGA facilities provide daily updates related to COVID-19 that include less detailed data than provided by contract facilities.” (p. 7)
Read the full 2021 OIG report: “Review of the United States Marshals Service’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic” here.