A BOP COVID-19 Overview

Learn how the Federal Bureau of Prisons is responding the COVID-19 threat.

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is carefully monitoring the COVID-19 virus. As with any type of emergency situation, we carefully assess how to best ensure the safety of staff, inmates and the public.

BOP COVID-19 Modified Operations Plan

BOP's Emergency Response

Every institution is like a small city and to cope with major emergencies or other significant interruptions of normal operations, they each have continuity of operations (COOP) plans that provide guidance to staff. These plans include information for dealing with a riot or fire, conducting mass evacuations in the event of a natural or man-made disaster, responding to a bomb threat, or managing other significant emergency conditions, such as with COVID-19.

While every emergency situation is different, and requires differing responses, these plans provide a blueprint that can be applied to almost any emergency situation. Typical emergency plans include information on notification of command staff, containment of the situation, notification of and coordination with local authorities, providing interim and follow up medical care, and other key issues. Flexibility is essential in implementing even the best-planned emergency responses.

Every facility's emergency plans are reviewed and updated each year and employees are required to review the plans annually. Training on many aspects of the emergency plans is conducted on a regular basis. The BOP's regional and central offices also have emergency response plans to assist them in supporting field operations in the event of a crisis. These plans include necessary contacts and liaison functions with other Federal, State, and local agencies.

BOP's COVID-19 Response

In January 2020, the BOP began planning for its COVID-19 response. Guidance memos were issued from Central Office, including guidance sent by the BOP Medical Director to all field clinical personnel on January 31, 2020 and on February 29, 2020. The guidance described screening best practices, provided inmate and staff screening tools, and CDC best practices/flyers as to preventing the spread of the disease. The screening tool for staff has been published on the BOP's internal and public websites. In February 2020, the BOP's Public Health Service (PHS) staff were placed in operational dress uniforms to be ready to respond to COVID-19 incidents by the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). As a result, the BOP instituted a comprehensive management approach for oversight of the situation. Oversight includes all BOP Regional Offices, all BOP Central Office Divisions (which oversee program level functions), and the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) that coordinates with state and local prisons and jails. The BOP also implemented its approved Pandemic Influenza Plan.

The BOP's planning is structured using the Incident Command System (ICS) framework. The BOP is utilizing the guidance and directives from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), DOJ and the Office of the Vice President. The BOP's Incident Action Plan includes but is not limited to the COOP plans, supplies, inmate movement, visitation, staff training, and official staff travel. The ICS Command Center conducts regular briefings and provides updates to senior management. BOP institutions, as a matter of policy and procedure, have pandemic plans for preparedness in the event of any infectious disease outbreak.

On March 6, 2020, additional guidance was sent to BOP field sites to assess and review the BOP's Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) inventory. A national acquisition plan was executed to obtain bulk purchases, stockpile supplies and coordinate distribution. Guidance from the BOP's Health Services Division and the Human Resource Management Division was issued to all BOP staff on March 9, 2020 regarding COVID-related screening for staff and how leave should be assigned (BOP leave protocols follow OPM guidance).

Throughout the pandemic, the BOP has engaged with the CDC in order to assist them with developing guidance specific to the unique nature of correctional environments. The engagement was mutually beneficial. As a result of these collaborative efforts, the CDC published the Guidance on Management of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Correctional and Detention Facilities on March 23, 2020; the subsequent update on July 14, 2020, was also issued with BOP input.

To ensure all of our facilities are in compliance with CDC and BOP guidance and directives related to the management of COVID-19 and the mitigation of disease transmission, COVID-19 Compliance Review Teams were established in August 2020, as a component of our Program Review Division. These teams visit every facility to conduct a thorough review, evaluating compliance measures, monitoring response techniques, and developing further COVID-19 mitigation strategies. Recommendations and best practices are shared with and implemented at all of our facilities as deemed appropriate.

The BOP is also working with the CDC and the federal government's COVID-19 Vaccine/Therapeutics Operation (a public-private partnership formerly known as Operation Warp Speed) to ensure we remain prepared to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as it is becomes available. Law enforcement, including correctional workers, and healthcare workers are eligible for the first round of vaccinations. Initially, the BOP is offering the vaccine to full-time staff given that staff - who come and go between the facility and the community - present a potential vector for transmission. Vaccinating staff protects staff members, inmates at the facility, and the community. Any remaining doses after staff vaccinations are given, are, and will continue to be, provided to inmates based on priority of need in accordance with CDC guidelines so no doses will be wasted or expire. Otherwise, inmates will receive the vaccine as determined by the COVID-19 Vaccine/Therapeutics Operation. For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine and its use within the BOP, please see the COVID-19 Vaccine Guidance on our public website.

For more information about our current operations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, please visit the BOP's Modified Operations page on our public website.

BOP's COVID-19 Collaboration Efforts

The BOP is providing interagency representation, resources, and collaboration with regard to COVID-19 to and with:

  • Emergency Support Function #13 ("ESF-13" as part of FEMA)
  • US Marshals Service
  • Biological Operational Threat Resource Federal Task Force (DHS)

BOP PHS Officers have been deployed for national travel-related screening at airports and the BOP's National Institute of Corrections (NIC) has been asked to share BOP-related guidance with state and local corrections. The BOP is participating in collaborative teleconferences with the CDC to exchange information related to COVID-19 and corrections. CDC routinely turns to BOP for correctional healthcare expertise for the appropriate management of HIV, Hepatitis, pandemic infections and many other public health situations. Currently, the CDC is providing interim guidance on the management of coronavirus disease in correctional and detention facilities . The American Correctional Association (ACA) also regularly consults with BOP as known experts within the correctional health care arena. In fact, ACA has posted the staff and inmate COVID-19 screening tools developed by the BOP on their public website.