Saturday, October 24, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 34

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on September 23rd, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 30 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 30

Bureau of Prisons says pre-release quarantine lasts two weeks, but family members say otherwise

By Malea Martin

It’s been more than two months since a class action lawsuit forced the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to consider releasing more incarcerated individuals into home confinement from the Lompoc federal prison due to COVID-19. But before someone can be released into home confinement—or fully released, if their sentence is complete—they are first quarantined in the prison to ensure that they don’t bring COVID-19 out with them.

The Bureau of Prisons says that inmates who are set to be released must first complete a 14-day quarantine, but family members of incarcerated people claim it’s longer. This photo is from an April 25 car rally where organizers demanded that non-violent offenders be released to home confinement.

“Following the 14-day quarantine period, an inmate who tests negative and is asymptomatic is approved to transfer/release,” BOP representative Justin Long wrote in a Sept. 22 email.

But Elisa Sánchez, whose husband is incarcerated at Lompoc, alleges otherwise. She told the Sun that her husband, who requested not to be named for fear of retaliation, is being quarantined for 28 days prior to his full term release, despite testing negative multiple times. 

Sánchez’s husband is nearly done serving an eight-month sentence in the Lompoc penitentiary’s Camp facility, where she said he lived in dormitory style confinement. She said that at the Camp, her husband had never been placed in a cell before—until now. 

“They’re not used to being locked up like that in the Camp,” Sánchez said. “It’s mentally exhausting for them.”

Sánchez said that, according to her husband, the pre-release quarantine area is in the special housing unit, known among prisoners as “the hole”—the same place where people are usually punished with solitary confinement. 

Naeun Rim, a lawyer from Bird Marella P.C. who’s working on the class action case, told the Sun in July that the prison allegedly placed people who tested positive in the hole.

BOP representative Long didn’t respond directly to the question of whether inmates were being placed in “the hole” prior to release.

“There are housing units specifically designated for pre-release quarantine,” he wrote. “The number of inmates in particular units may vary. The institution may not place every inmate in quarantine or isolation in separate cells, for example, if there is an outbreak with lots of positive inmates.”

Long continued that “every effort is made to quarantine by single cell.”

“However, if circumstances prevent that, inmates are quarantined by cohort,” he wrote. “Once an inmate releases, another inmate is not placed in that cell until the completion of the initial quarantine period.”

Sánchez said that her husband has had two different cellmates so far during his quarantine, which makes her question whether his COVID-19-negative status will soon be compromised. She’s concerned that, if her husband does come up positive, his quarantine will be extended beyond his release date, which is slated for early October.

“He said, ‘Now they’re putting me in a whole different environment, where they had the outbreak,’” Sánchez said of her husband. “‘There’s people here that are positive, and I’m taking showers and I’m in their environment.’”

She added that, according to her husband, inmates in pre-release quarantine are let out of their cells for 20 minutes or less every two days, and that they must contact loved ones and shower all within the 20-minute period. 

Long confirmed that quarantined inmates are let out “at least three times per week,” however he did not respond to the Sun’s question regarding how long they have to shower and use the phone. 

“They’re humans, they’re people. They’re not animals,” Sánchez said. “They can be locked up, that’s fine, but I think that for them to be locked up for a whole month before they go home—I think that’s a punishment more than anything.” 

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