Federal prisons throughout the country have been placed under full-on lockdown until further notice in the days leading up to the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and amid nationwide threats of unrest, officials recently announced.
All of the 122 federal prison facilities have been temporarily secured “in light of current events occurring around the country, and out of an abundance of caution,” the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced Saturday morning.
The agency’s operations had already been limited in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, with the latest measure being taken “to maintain the security and orderly running of our institutions, as well as to ensure the continued safety of staff, inmates, and the public,” the memo states.
In the meantime, the BOP said all prisons will provide inmates with access to email and telephones until the lockdown is lifted, but did not indicate how long the restrictions will be in place.
The measure is precautionary, the BOP memo states, and was not prompted by any threats or information.
“In securing the facilities, the hope is that this prudent measure is for a short period and that operations will be restored to their prior status as soon as practical,” the memo states. “We will continue to monitor events carefully and will adjust operations accordingly as the situation continues to evolve.”
The lockdown was not announced until after inmates were locked in their cells Friday evening.
Shane Fausey, the president of the Council of Prison Locals, wrote in his email to staff that inmates should still be given access in small groups to showers, phones and email and can still be involved in preparing food and performing basic maintenance, according to The Associated Press.
One reason for the new nationwide lockdown is that the bureau is moving some of its Special Operations Response Teams from prison facilities to Washington, D.C., to bolster security after President Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Authorities are concerned there could be more violence, not only in the nation’s capital, but also at state capitals, before Trump leaves office Jan. 20.
A Bureau of Prisons spokesman said the agency was coordinating with officials at the Justice Department to be ready to deploy as needed. Earlier this month, about 100 officers were sent to the Justice Department’s headquarters to supplement security staff and were deputized by the U.S. Marshals Service and given special legal powers to “enforce federal criminal statutes and protect federal property and personnel,” said the spokesman, Justin Long.
The specialized units typically respond to disturbances and other emergencies at prisons, such as riots, assaults, escapes and escape attempts, and hostage situations. Their absence can leave gaps in a prison’s emergency response and put remaining staff at risk.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.