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Federal prisons remain locked down days after 2 incarcerated people were killed in Beaumont

A Federal Bureau of Federal Prisons truck drives past barbed wire fences at the Federal Medical Center prison in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday, May 16, 2020.
AP Photo
LM Otero
A Federal Bureau of Federal Prisons truck drives past barbed wire fences at the Federal Medical Center prison in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday, May 16, 2020.

Federal prisons across the country remain locked down after two men were killed inside a Beaumont facility during an alleged gang fight on Monday.

Two incarcerated men died and two others were injured at USP Beaumont during what the Associated Press reported was an MS-13 gang altercation at 11:30 am Monday. The federal Bureau of Prisons responded to the killings by locking down all federal prisons.

As a result, people incarcerated in more than 120 federal prisons nationwide won’t be able to participate in special programs or recreation, have visitation from lawyers or family, or get hot meals at the cafeteria, according to federal public defender Marjorie Meyers.

Federal prisons already have restrictions on visitations due to COVID-19. Meyers, who works in Houston, said the additional lockdown is a stressor for her clients.

“They have been so isolated because of COVID,” Meyers said. “This is just on top of it.”

Meyers has clients at the Federal Detention Center in Houston, a pretrial facility that also serves as a detention center for people serving short sentences.

Calling the shutdown “draconian,” Meyers hoped the lockdown would be temporary and not last for more than two days.

“They see it as security, where for our clients, it is punishment,” she said.

BOP officials did not respond to requests for comment from Houston Public Media, but a spokeswoman confirmed to Texas Public Radio that the lockdown is ongoing.

It was not immediately clear how long the lockdown would last, but Durrell Douglas — the founder and executive director of the Houston Justice Coalition and a former lieutenant of correctional officers for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice — said a lockdown can last for months at a time if it’s deemed necessary to keep people safe.

Still, he cautioned that the incident at the Beaumont prison shouldn’t be used as an excuse to extend lockdowns to deal with chronic staffing shortages at detention centers.

“You can’t let one incident, although very serious, be the excuse for a nationwide shutdown,” he said. “That’s insane, especially if this is going to be long term.”

Those staffing issues and other problems within the correctional system could be part of why the killings happened at what is supposed to be a secure facility, Douglas added. And he said the lockdown was likely an effort to prevent retaliation at other facilities.

“Something that’s this small could easily snowball into a massive bloodshed,” Douglas said.

Everett Kelley, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, released a statement calling for better prison staffing and said that the union has warned prison officials about the dangerous conditions.

“The chronic understaffing of our prisons is jeopardizing the lives of both workers and inmates,” Kelley said. “While no employees were reportedly injured in this most recent attack, they may not be so lucky next time.”

Additional reporting from Texas Public Radio’s Paul Flahive.

Copyright 2022 Houston Public Media News 88.7. To see more, visit Houston Public Media News 88.7.

Caroline Love
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