Local 171 -- In the News
Joshua Lepird, a union official in Oklahoma City, said neither of the two federal prisons in his area have received doses yet, but he’s anticipating an opt-out rate of around 50 percent. “Truthfully people are working so much it’s hard for them to sit down and read a bunch of information,” Lepird said. “From what I can tell, most already have their mind made up.”
Joshua Lepird, president of the union at the Oklahoma City transfer center, which is about 30 miles northeast of Grady, estimated that more than half of his facility’s 52 confirmed COVID-19 cases in early June were people who’d been transferred from the jail. He blamed an intentional lack of testing across the system. “Here's the truth: They don’t want to know how many positive inmates they have,” he said. “The numbers are higher than they’re admitting.”
Joshua Lepird, a union official at a transfer center in Oklahoma City, said prisoners sent there from Grady have tested positive on multiple occasions. Lepird said he visited the jail to see the situation there for himself and observed virtually no prisoners wearing masks.“It’s just crazy,” Lepird said. “They don’t have a lot of precautions there. They’re not held to the same standards as federal facilities. They're just not.”
One area where the BOP still has a challenge is the arrival of new inmates. These are people who are either self surrendering to prison or who are usually in county jails awaiting transfer to the BOP. County jails are an integral part of transporting inmates and work under contracts, usually with US Marshals Service, to hold inmates until transfer to a BOP facility. I interviewed Josh Lepird who works for the BOP in Oklahoma but was speaking in his capacity as President of AFGE Local 171 where he is over the Oklahoma Transfer Center as well as El Reno medium security prison nearby. Lepird told me that there continues to be challenges with managing this virus.
The BOP operates a large federal transfer center in Oklahoma City that is charged with receiving inmates from various locations before sending them on to their final destination at one of over 120 facilities across the country. Lepird said, “In the past we processes between 80,000 and 90,000 people each year through this facility but we may never see those kinds of numbers again. One challenge is the receipt of inmates from county jails who are brought to the airstrip outside of Oklahoma City.” As Lepird described it, some inmates who come from county jails are taken off of buses and then led into the the transfer center for a period of testing and quarantine, while others are taken right from the bus onto airplanes by the Marshals. Lepird said that one institution that constantly feeds inmates into his facility is the Grady County Jail (Oklahoma). “Some of these inmates are testing positive right when they come off the bus,” Lepird said, “we test them, we quarantine them and we send them on once they have retested negative a few times.” With regard to the inmates that get off the bus and get right on another plane with the US Marshals Lepird said, “I’m not sure of their protocol but they aren’t testing them before they get in those planes.”
Grady County has reported outbreaks of COVID-19 in its facility in the recent past. Lepird understands from the inmates who arrive that inmate testing is voluntary at these county facilities. “There is no real accountability, something our union has spoke out about for years when it comes to using these private contract facilities. Those inmates in county jails want to get to their final destination so they avoid testing at all cost just to get out of the county jails.” Lepird said that the transfer facility has control over testing where inmates have no choice but to get tested and to go through quarantine. However, he acknowledged that there is a lot of pressure put on inmates during this process. “There is limited programming here, not a lot to do, and for quarantine periods there is little movement, little contact with the outside world,” Lepird said, “my goal is to get these people on their way but the process has really slowed down and we only have so much capacity. You can’t put water in a full bucket.”