About one in three inmates at FMC Devens, the state’s only federal prison, is infected with COVID-19, part of a recent surge that prompted two members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation to demand Tuesday that prison officials take action.
In a letter, US Representatives Lori Trahan and James P. McGovern urged the federal Bureau of Prisons to combat the virus with a variety of measures, including placing medically vulnerable inmates in home confinement and granting requests for compassionate release to some inmates.
“While enactment of adequate prevention measures would have been preferable, it is crucial to take robust precautionary actions now that COVID-19 is well inside FMC Devens’ walls,” the letter said.
Federal figures released Tuesday show that 266 of FMC Devens prisoners and 11 workers had an active case of COVID-19. The facility is comprised of a medical center with 688prisoners and a satellite camp with 51 prisoners. Infections among inmates began to spike in mid-December after a period of 4 1/2 months when FMC-Devens reported no more than one active case of the virus among prisoners at any time.
Four inmates at the federal facility have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, agency figures show.
Trahan and McGovern noted in their letter that the facility is among several “Federal Medical Centers,” which provide care to inmates with a range of medical conditions before they are relocated to another correctional institution. The lawmakers said the federal agency has “a special duty of care to take robust precautions considering its immunocompromised population.”
The Bureau of Prisons didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The prison website says visits at FMC Devens have been suspended until further notice.
In May, Trahan and Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey asked the Bureau of Prisons to implement widespread testing at the facility and release vulnerable inmates who didn’t pose substantial safety threats. In mid-June, the agency notified the lawmakers that all inmates had been tested. As of Sunday, the facility reported 755 inmates had been tested at least once for the virus, figures show.
As of Tuesday, more than 6,200 federal inmates and more than 1,800 prisoners workers nationwide had an active case of COVID-19, agency figures show. The virus has killed 181 federal prisoners and three workers.
Last month, a federal judge in New York allowed a private equity manager convicted in the Panama Papers scandal to postpone his arrival at FMC-Devens until March 4. In a letter, a lawyer for Harald Joachim von der Goltz had cited the recent infections and noted his client should be vaccinated early based on his age and medical conditions.
Von der Goltz, a resident of Needham and Key Biscayne, Fla., who is in his early 80s, is set to serve four years in prison for wire fraud and other crimes.
In April, a class-action lawsuit seeking the release of sick and elderly prisoners called FMC Devens a “powder keg of potential infection and death from COVID-19.” The case was dismissed in July.
In the state prison system, more than 2,000 Department of Correction inmates and more than 700 workers have tested positive for COVID-19 since April. As of last week, the DOC reported active infections in 133 inmates and more than 300 workers.