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Federal Prisons Are Under a National Lockdown After Two Inmate Deaths

This followed an altercation on Monday that led to the deaths.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons went into a national lockdown on Monday after two inmates died following a fight.

At about 11:30 a.m. on Monday multiple inmates at U.S. Penitentiary Beaumont in Beaumont, Texas––a high security facility that currently houses about 1,372 male inmates–– were found fighting. “Inmate Guillermo Riojas and inmate Andrew Pineda were transported to a local hospital for life-threatening injuries, and were subsequently pronounced deceased by hospital staff,” said a press release from BOP on Monday evening. “Two additional inmates were transported to a local hospital for further medical assessment and treatment.” The FBI has been notified and no other inmates or staff were harmed or were in danger at the time, the press release added. 

A source familiar with the matter said the incident was related to gang violence. The Associated Press, which also reported on the lockdown, said, “the altercation involved members of the violent MS-13 street gang, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. The people could not discuss an ongoing investigation and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.” 

“In an abundance of caution, the Bureau of Prisons is securing our facilities as a temporary measure to ensure the good order of our institutions,” Emery Nelson, a BOP spokesperson told Government Executive in a statement later on Monday evening. “We anticipate this security measure will be short-lived. The BOP will continue to monitor events carefully and will adjust its operations accordingly as the situation evolves. For safety and security reasons, the BOP does not elaborate on specific security procedures.” 

During a national lockdown, inmates are mostly confined to their cells and visitations are not allowed. Many institutions already have certain limitations in place due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“The violent attack at USP Beaumont that resulted in the death of two inmates is a vivid reminder of the dangers faced by every correctional officer and employee who works in the Bureau of Prisons,” said Everett Kelley, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, in a statement on Tuesday. 

“As the exclusive union representative for federal correctional officers and staff, AFGE has long warned that the chronic understaffing of our prisons is jeopardizing the lives of both workers and inmates,” he continued. “While no employees were reportedly injured in this most recent attack, they may not be so lucky next time. Our elected leaders must take immediate action to ensure all federal prisons have the staff and resources they need to safely carry out their duties.”

Joe Rojas, union advocate for the Council of Prison Locals, a division of AFGE, told Government Executive, “I think it’s good for precautionary reasons to make sure this doesn't escalate to other institutions.” 

There have been a few lockdowns (or partial ones) over the past two years, but before that the last one was in October 1995 following a series of riots, Rojas previously told Government Executive.

BOP has about 120 facilities nationwide and provides for the custody and care of over 153,000 federal inmates. The agency announced earlier this month that BOP Director Michael Carvajal will retire, but will stay on until a successor is named. 

Update: This article was updated with comment from AFGE at 11 a.m. on February 1.