BERLIN — Approximately 200 inmates are being transferred to the federal prison in Berlin as a result of President Joe Biden’s decision to phase out the use of private prisons.
Aaron Posthumus, executive assistant at the Federal Correctional Institute-Berlin, said the facility is absorbing several hundred inmates that were being held at a private prison in Texas.
For security reasons, he said the Bureau of Prisons does not provide specific transfer plans.
Posthumus said the bureau “houses many inmates in low-security, privately contracted correctional facilities. After determining that sufficient bed space exists for inmates in the BOP’s own facilities, and therefore additional bed-space will not be needed, the BOP decided not to exercise a contract renewal option for some of these private facilities.”
He said all inmates are being transferred to facilities commensurate with their security needs.
According to Posthumus the Berlin men's prison currently houses a total of 741 inmates.
When it opened in 2012, the capacity was reported as 1,152 medium security inmates and 128 minimum security inmates.
Posthumus emphasized that the inmates being transferred to Berlin are not Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees.
He also said that any inmates entering or departing the Berlin prison is screened and tested for COVID-19 and placed in quarantine or medical isolation for at least 14 days, then tested a second time before being released into the general population.
If an inmate tests positive, he is placed in medical isolation until cleared by medical staff. Inmates are treated in-house unless medical staff determines they need hospitalization.
The prison experienced a major COVID-19 outbreak last month when over 170 inmates tested positive.
As of Monday, the bureau was reporting it had 18 inmates and six staff testing positive for COVID.
Asked if the prison had sufficient staff to handle the additional inmates, Posthumus said the BOP is actively recruiting correctional officers and has been for several years.
He said the starting base salary for a correctional officer is $43,495 with full benefits, including early retirement.
He said the bureau is offering 10 percent recruiting, retention and relocation incentives. People interested in working at the federal prison can call (603) 342-4056.
According to NBC News, Biden signed an executive order on Jan. 26 that will phase out the Department of Justice’s use of private prisons.
“The action is part of the administration’s effort to address racial inequity in the country and make good on Biden’s campaign promises to Black Americans,” the network said.
The order directs the Justice Department to decline to renew contracts with privately operated, for-profit prisons.
A 2016 report by the Justice Department found that private prisons see high rates of assault, use of force incidents and lockdowns, NBC said, quoting Biden as saying that the policy is “the first step to stop corporations from profiting off of incarceration that is less humane and less safe.” He called it the beginning of his overall plan to address systemic problems in the criminal justice system.
A paper released by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics last October said that in 2019 there were an estimated 27,400 federal inmates in privately operated facilities or 16 percent of all federal inmates.
Berlin Sun reporter Edith Tucker contributed to this article.