The federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Ind., shown in August 2020.

The federal prison complex in Terre Haute, Ind., shown in August 2020. Michael Conroy / AP

Federal Bureau of Prisons Goes Into National Lockdown Ahead of Inauguration 

The agency said the “precautionary” move was “not in response to any significant events” occurring inside its facilities.

Amid security concerns for Inauguration Day, the Federal Bureau of Prisons went into national lockdown on Friday as a precaution.  

The lockdown for BOP’s 122 locations nationwide, which affects 165,575 inmates and 36,846 employees, comes as BOP is sending specially trained officers to Washington, D.C., to help the Justice Department if needed. The bureau is one of the many law enforcement agencies with a presence in the city, almost two weeks after the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. BOP previously went into national lockdown in June during the widespread protests after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed in police custody in Minneapolis. June was the first national lockdown since October 1995 following a series of riots. 

“For the majority of the past twelve months, the BOP has been operating under a modified operational model to promote social distancing and mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” said a post from the agency. “However, in light of current events occurring around the country, and out of an abundance of caution, the decision has been made to secure all institutions. This measure is 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.”

BOP said “there is no specific information that triggered this decision” and the “action is precautionary, and is not in response to any significant events occurring inside our facilities.” They hope this is only for a short period, but in the meantime are offering inmates limited access to phone and email, so they can communicate with their families. 

A total lockdown means “no movement whatsoever,” Joe Rojas, the Southeast regional vice president at the Council of Prison Locals, previously told Government Executive. 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), he said. 

Aaron McGlothin, a California correctional officer and local union president, commended the agency for being “proactive” because “what happens outside could very well affect what happens on the inside of these walls,” in regard to possible civil unrest. “The inmate population is already used to being in a semi, modified type program” due the partial lockdown for the pandemic. 

BOP couldn’t give a number of officers sent to D.C. this week, but told Government Executive they sent about 100 during the week of January 4, during which Congress certified the election results and pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol. 

“The BOP's officers sent to Washington, D.C. this week are trained to respond to public safety issues and have been deputized under the authority granted the U.S. Marshals Service to enforce federal criminal statutes and protect federal property and personnel,” said BOP Spokesman Justin Long. “These officers are wearing clothing that identifies them as BOP staff and includes numerical markings unique to each officer.” 

McGlothin didn't know the number of officers sent to D.C., but said that over the summer, BOP sent disturbance control teams and special operations and response teams, but this time only the special operations and response teams. While every institution has disturbance control teams, not everyone has the special operations and response ones, which he said receive more “elite” training. 

He added that he has worked closely with the Senate office of Kamala Harris on improving conditions for staff and inmates and hopes that will continue when she becomes vice president, to bolster management accountability and workers’ rights.