Top view on the Metropolitan Correctional Center, Federal Bureau of Prisons, in Chicago.

Top view on the Metropolitan Correctional Center, Federal Bureau of Prisons, in Chicago. Bumble Dee/

Federal Bureau of Prisons Goes into National Lockdown Over Protests

This comes after days of protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons is under national lockdown for the first time in almost 25 years due to widespread protests following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25.

Monday marked the seventh day of nationwide protests, many of which have become violent, forcing several cities to institute curfews. “The BOP has implemented a national lockdown as of 4 p.m. due to the ongoing unrest and riots nationwide,” said a text message alert from the bureau obtained by Government Executive. “We will assume lockdown protocols for everyone’s safety and until it is calm around the nation.” BOP has 122 locations nationwide with about 165,575 inmates and 36,846 employees. 

A union official and a bureau employee confirmed the national lockdown. BOP Spokesperson Justin Long gave the following statement on Monday night: 

“The BOP is currently operating under an enhanced modified operational model to promote social distancing and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  In light of extensive protest activity occurring around the country, the BOP – in an abundance of caution – is implementing an additional, temporary security measure to ensure the good order and security of our institutions, as well as ensure the safety of staff and inmates. In securing our facilities, our hope is that this security measure is short-lived and that inmates will be restored to limited movement in the very near future. The BOP will continue to monitor events carefully and will adjust its operations accordingly as the situation continues to evolve.” 

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Also on Monday, Attorney General William Barr directed the BOP to send riot teams to Miami and Washington, D.C., to help with the protests, NPR reported

Exactly two months ago, the agency implemented what staff and union officials are calling a “modified lockdown” to restrict inmate movement due to the novel coronavirus outbreaks. Inmates are supposed to be secured in their cells or quarters for 14 days, which BOP noted was “based on health concerns, not disruptive inmate behavior.” Agency officials said inmates would still have access to normal programs and services, such as mental health treatment and education. However, group gatherings in the commissary, laundry, shower, telephone and computer areas are limited.

Joe Rojas, the Southeast regional vice president at the Council of Prison Locals, previously told Government Executive that the last full, nationwide lockdown was in October 1995 following a series of riots. 

A total lockdown means "no movement whatsoever," said Rojas on Monday evening. It's a lot more work for staff members because they have to handle food delivery, showering and other things for the inmates that could potentially be done on their own (depending on the institution’s level of security).

Speaking Monday night, President Trump said he is using all federal resources to stop the violence and “establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence” and threatened the use of the military. He said while he is an “ally of peaceful protestors,” the last few days have been taken over by an “angry mob.”

This story has been updated with additional comments from Joe Rojas at the Council of Prison Locals, and Justin Long at the Bureau of Prisons.