The Women’s Federal Prison Camp At Alderson In Middle Of COVID-19 Outbreak

This week, many families who have loved ones incarcerated in the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), got some good news. Thousands of inmates, minimum security with little risk of recidivism, were transferred from prison institutions to complete the remainder of their sentence in home confinement. The program’s origins owe thanks to COVID-19, which allowed the BOP to move inmates with underlying conditions (over 60 years old, diabetic, heart issues, pre-diagnosis of cancer, etc) to home confinement to prevent them from becoming a statistic of the pandemic. According to the BOP’s own records (as of December 22, 2021), there are currently 452 federal inmates and 261 BOP staff who have confirmed positive test results for COVID-19 nationwide. Currently, 41,736 inmates and 8,686 staff have recovered. There have been 273 federal inmate deaths and 7 BOP staff member deaths attributed to COVID-19 virus. The number one BOP institution with outbreaks at the moment is FPC Alderson is hardly the Camp Cupcake it has been reported in the past.

For CARES Act, the Department of Justice removed the cap on the amount of time that a person could spend on home confinement during their term of incarceration. Prior to COVID, all inmates were capped at their amount of home confinement (the last 10% of their sentence amount or 6 months at most. In order to reduce prison populations, then-Attorney General William Barr, authorized the BOP to lift that 10% and 6 months for certain inmates with underlying conditions to an unlimited amount of time of the sentence that could be spent on home confinement.

Now, almost two years into the program, one would think the BOP has this program down; 1) person comes in with sentence, 2) underlying conditions are identified, 3) dates for transfer to home confinement set, and 4) person transfers to home confinement to complete sentence under strict rules. However, that is not happening.

In FPC Alderson, an all women’s minimum security prison camp in West Virginia, COVID cases are spiking. Of the 665 female inmates at the institution, 1o8 have active COVID cases (December 23, 2022) and 43 have recently recovered … over 20% are currently or recently infected. Paul Petruzzi, an attorney who represents women at the facility told me,  “The conditions there are just abhorrent. Women are sick, there is no hot water in the quarantine unit and staff is short. I’ve contacted the mayor (of Alderson, WV), the Bureau of Prisons and anyone who will look into this crisis.” According to Petruzzi, there are women there who are eligible to be placed on CARES Act home confinement, but they are languishing there as the pandemic’s Omicron variant rips through the facility. Petruzzi also was told that there are approximately twelve women who have been hospitalized outside of the facility in the local community, while others remain in the facility in the quarantine unit on oxygen.

Alderson, like other female federal prisons (Dublin, Coleman), has a history of staff abuse of female inmates in its care. In 2019 Jarrod Grimes, a corrections officer at Alderson, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for unlawfully engaging in sexual activities with female inmates at Alderson. Grimes previously worked at a female prison camp in Coleman. According to the most recent report on sexual incidents at Alderson, a total of four investigations were conducted within the past 12 months but none of the investigations resulted in substantiated claims for administrative actions or prosecution referral. “The facility reported two unsubstantiated claims of sexual abuse, and there are two cases currently pending review.” While all inmates have a tough time in prison, women are particularly vulnerable.


Even though inmates should not have to apply for CARES Act, many do because they do not feel staff is properly evaluating them for the program. Inmates make such requests through an administrative process known as the BP-8, 9, 10 and 11 (appeals from the case manager all the way up to BOP Central Office). Inmates at Alderson have told me that there is no way to really know who is in charge of making decisions and appeals sometimes come back with denials with no reason for the denial. In most cases, paperwork is being lost or mismanaged, with inmates guessing as to what their status is for review. To go through the entire administrative remedy process can take months upon months, leaving them scared for what is in store for them as the virus grows. The BOP is currently experiencing staff shortages across the country and has been plagued by shortages for decades.

In one case of a woman at Alderson who submitted a request to be considered for the CARES Act [confirmed but details withheld to protect the identity of inmate for fear of reprisal] received a detailed response for her denial from the Warden at Alderson. In it the Warden acknowledged that she had served the appropriate amount of time of her sentence, had underlying conditions that make her susceptible to COVID, had a good disciplinary record but details of her crime made her ineligible. While the BOP has wide discretion on approving whether or not an inmate can be transferred to home confinement, critiquing details of a crime to deny a woman in a minimum-security prison the ability to get out of harm’s way of a virus seems illogical. The woman is in prison for a crime, but the CARES Act is for health and safety reasons, not moral judgement of a Warden. In researching, I could not find a specific notice from Congress, Attorney General Barr (Attorney General Merrick Garland) or an internal memorandum from the BOP that would have disqualified a person for a similar type of crime.

The women in Alderson have also provided information stating that their commissary has been limited because of staffing issues. While commissary might seem like a luxury, those incarcerated have to purchase their own over-the-counter medications like Tylenol and Advil … something to bring relief from COVID symptoms. Those with symptoms, or more specifically that are saying they have symptoms, are being quarantined in separate dorms. As one woman told me (no names being released) some people are not reporting their symptoms because they simply don’t want to pick up what little bit of life they have here in prison to move temporarily to another part of the prison.

Alderson is currently listed on the BOP website as being at Level 3 Operations, meaning that that one of three factors apply to the institution; 1) medical isolation rate at the prison is greater that 7% of the population 2) the facility vaccination rater is less than 50% or 3) the community transmission rate greater than 100 per 100,000 over the last 7 days. Visitation has been suspended as it has much of the past 18 months since the BOP started limited operations. One family member told me, “I have not seen my daughter in two years, it is just heart breaking.

Alderson is a small town in West Virginia with only about 1,100 residents and the nearest major hospital is in Beckley, WV (30 miles away). The prison camp at Alderson, like many minimum-security facilities, has limited medical care and when inmates are sick they are taken to a local doctor or hospital.  That means resources meant to serve the community can be taxed when super-spreader events, like the on-going conditions in a prison environment, are bound to overwhelm healthcare needs. Petruzzi appealed to Alderson Mayor Travis Copenhaver in a letter writing, “The health and safety of the people in Alderson depend on the proper actions taken by the leaders in the community.” Perhaps Petruzzi will get a sympathetic ear with Copenhaver who can demand some relief to his own community.

The women in Alderson await someone to help them, anyone.

The Tycoon Herald