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Bureau of Prisons returns to modified operations after deadly fight in Texas prompted lockdown

A Federal Bureau of Prisons truck drives past barbed wire fences at the Federal Medical Center prison in Fort Worth, Texas in May 2020.
The Associated Press
A Federal Bureau of Prisons truck drives past barbed wire fences at the Federal Medical Center prison in Fort Worth, Texas in May 2020.

The agency that oversees the country’s federal prison system didn’t elaborate on which facilities were affected.

The federal Bureau of Prisons has partially lifted a nationwide lockdown put in place last week after two men at a facility in Beaumont were killed during what authorities called a gang fight.

Two other men were also injured in the Jan. 31 altercation, which involved members of the notorious MS-13 prison gang, the Associated Press reported.

In a statement from the bureau Monday afternoon, the agency said: “After gathering and monitoring intelligence, the BOP made a determination to return select facilities to the appropriate modified operational status. As part of a tiered response, additional facilities will return to the appropriate operational status as intelligence permits.”

It’s unclear from the statement how many locations are included in “modified operational status” and when the complete lockdown will be lifted. A request for comment to the BOP wasn’t immediately returned Monday afternoon.

During the lockdown, inmates in the federal prison system — which includes more than 120 units nationwide — were unable to have visits from lawyers or family, federal public defender Marjorie Meyers told Houston Public Media last week. They we also barred from participating in programs or recreation.

The fight and subsequent lockdown prompted renewed scrutiny over staffing shortages in prisons and how inmates are being treated.

During a Congressional hearing on prison oversight last week, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston) raised concerns before the House Judiciary subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

“Although details are not forthcoming due to the ongoing FBI investigation, this incident raises concern about the safety and security of the facility particularly in my backyard, Beaumont, which has been compromised by longstanding staffing shortages,” said Lee.

A union representative for the country’s federal employees warned that, should these conditions persist, the next emergency could result in the deaths of federal employees as well as inmates.

“The chronic understaffing of our prisons is jeopardizing the lives of both workers and inmates,” Everett Kelley, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, told Houston Public Media. “While no employees were reportedly injured in this most recent attack, they may not be so lucky next time.”

The Texas Newsroom’s Becky Fogel contributed to this report.

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Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.