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Feinstein, Booker Introduce Bill to Help State, Local Prisons Test, Treat COVID-19

Washington—Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Judiciary Committee member Cory Booker (D-N.J.) today introduced the COVID–19 Correctional Facility Emergency Response Act. The bill will help state and local governments provide COVID-19 testing and treatment for individuals in state and local correctional facilities.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) introduced companion legislation in the House. In February, Senator Booker introduced a bill that would move thousands of vulnerable people in federal facilities out of prison to better protect them from the pandemic.

“Correctional facilities are being overrun with COVID-19 cases – this is a public health emergency we can’t ignore,” Senator Feinstein said. “Prisons need more resources to test and treat staff, inmates and detainees. Our bill will give them the necessary tools to protect vulnerable prison populations and prevent the virus from spreading further.”

“For people behind bars, contracting COVID-19 can be tantamount to a death sentence,” 
Senator Booker said. “Those in prison and jail tend to have much higher rates of underlying health issues than the general public, and the conditions of confinement make social distancing virtually impossible. The vast majority of these individuals are behind bars in state and local jails, so it’s critical that we provide states with the appropriate incentives and resources to fully and compassionately address this public health crisis. New Jersey has led the way with this approach and this legislation will hopefully spur other states to follow suit.”

“The risk factors for COVID-19 spreading in prisons and jails are abundantly clear – close quarters, a large number of individuals who are medically vulnerable, and a limited availability of treatment,” Chairman Nadler said. “We must give states and local governments critical funding assistance to prevent the spread of this disease in these facilities, to test and treat inmates and those working in prisons, and to promote the reduction in prison populations so that fewer people are put at risk. These steps are urgently needed and are the right thing to do and I am pleased that Senators Feinstein and Booker are introducing the Senate companion to my House bill.”

The COVID–19 Correctional Facility Emergency Response Act would:

  • Provide states and local correctional facilities with funds to test and treat COVID-19 for all arrestees, detainees and inmates.

  • Provide funds for COVID–19 testing for correctional facility staff, volunteers and visitors; attorneys and court personnel who have contact with detainees and inmates; law enforcement officers who transport detainees and inmates; and personnel outside correctional facilities who provide medical treatment to detainees and inmates.

  • Incentivize states to adopt programs that facilitate reductions in the number of arrestees, detainees and inmates by curtailing booking and in-facility processing for individuals who have committed technical parole or probation violations and provide transition and reentry support services to individuals released.

  • Authorize a new grant program to adopt cite-and-release procedures for individuals who are suspected of committing misdemeanor and felony offenses and who do not pose a risk of serious danger to the community.

  • Authorize $1 billion for each of fiscal years 2021 and 2022 to implement these programs.