In a memo to the Bureau of Prisons, Barr said officials should prioritize the use of statutory authorities to release eligible prisoners early for home decor, while acknowledging that some vulnerable prisoners may be more protected from the deadly virus outside the cramped prison.
The directive came when Bureau of Prisons reported that 10 prisoners and eight employees of Bureau of Prisons have tested positive for coronavirus as of Thursday, even as prison officials have continued to take strict measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including a ban on most visitors and a two-week quarantine for all new prisoners entering a facility. Proponents and prison officials have warned that a close criminal facility could quickly become a legacy for the deadly disease.
“We have some of the best run prisons in the world and I am convinced of our ability to keep prisoners in our prisons as safe as possible from the pandemic currently sweeping across the world,”
“At the same time, there are some risks that are not violent and that pose a minimal risk of recidivism and that may be safer to serve their judgments in home decisions rather than in BOP facilities,” Barr wrote.
According to the memo, prison officials should first consider factors such as the age and vulnerability of that coronavirus prisoner, the prisoner’s behavior, the conviction of conviction and the potential risk to the public, and whether that prisoner has a plan in place to re-enter society and avoid it. recidivism before being granted them early release.
Prisoners who are approved for the search must also be quarantined first for 14 days before being released to avoid the spread of an undetected case of the virus, Barr said.
There has been intense lobbying by legislators and activists
Nearly 5,000 inmates in federal custody are over 65, according to the Bureau of Prisons, putting them in an age group that is at higher risk of serious illness after contracting the virus, the CDC says.
Since the virus began to spread, the Bureau of Prisons has switched to a moderated lockdown position, which temporarily blocks social visitors and attorneys in most circumstances from visiting prisoners and restricting internal movements.
The Trump administration had weighed various plans for an early release amid an intense lobbying campaign by lawmakers and activists that raised concerns about an unprepared prison system.
In recent days, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, as well as advocacy groups, the Justice Department and the White House’s channels who were active in previous criminal justice reform cases, including senior counsel Jared Kushner, have lost the process and advocates involved.
Activists including Revs. Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton said last week that they had spoken to President Donald Trump on the issue. Kim Kardashian, who has used her celebrity to successfully lobby the White House lobby on criminal justice reform previously, wrote on Twitter last night on Twitter about the need for “empathy” in the prison system during the pandemic.
On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley and Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate’s Democratic Whip, the Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons, called for the release of vulnerable prisoners in accordance with the provisions of the first step of a letter.
Trump on Sunday told reporters that he thought the dangers of vulnerable prisoners were “a bit of a problem” and said his administration was investigating different ways to release prisoners early, including through executive order. Legislation on the White House’s legislative issues has made an outreach to congressional offices in recent days, pushing for a bill that would allow some older, nonviolent prisoners to leave facilities in the middle of the outbreak, according to a senior White House official.
But on Monday, Trump had retweeted a conservative commentator who was fooling the idea and killing the hopes of some advocates.
After Barr announced the memo and new politics at a news conference Thursday, activists who were involved in the effort applauded.
“I think this can have a huge impact on both the prison system as a whole but also really for the people who work there as well,” said Jessica Jackson, one of the founders and senior counsel at # cut50, a criminal justice reform group that had pushed for the extension of the Early Release Program with administrative officials in recent weeks.
“Inside the prisons, this would not only allow them to start engaging in better social distancing methods because they will be a little less crowded, but it will also take a lot of pressure from the prison hospitals and the prison medical workers who otherwise can climb to take care of this population if the corona virus gets in there, “she said.
The majority of the prisoners are in local prisons
Hundreds of prisoners have already begun to be released from locally run prisons after early state and municipal authorities. The majority of US prisoners are housed in local prisons, and dozens of cases of coronavirus have already been reported in such facilities across the country.
In New York City, where 75 prisoners in local prisons had tested positive for coronavirus as of Wednesday – an infection rate 87 times higher than the United States at large, according to an analysis by The Legal Aid Society – hundreds of prisoners have been released so far, and on Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city was working to release hundreds more.
The process is not moving fast enough for lawyers at The Legal Aid Society, the city’s largest law firm for low-income clients, and the group has been sued by the city and state correctional authorities asking for certain high-risk prisoners to be released.
Gabriella Agranat-Getz, a staff attorney in the group, called New York’s response “dangerously slow.”
“We see the number of confirmed positive tests on Rikers doubled within a day and when we heard about the conditions – it can spread like wildfire in there – so taking days to free people It’s just dangerous,” she said, citing Rikers Island, the notorious city prison.
Jimmy, a 55-year-old Legal Aid client, was released early from Rikers Island on Tuesday – a week before his sentence ended due to a non-violent offense.
In an interview with CNN, he described the meals packed elbow to elbow with prisoners and limited access to cleaning materials. He said he used soap and shampoo that he had bought himself and watered to last longer to dry the surfaces and asked to stay healthy.
“I pretty much stop washing my hands, standing up and cleaning the surfaces, the rods, the door handles, the handles, all these different common areas. I just keep on hoping it goes well with me,” Jimmy said.
When he released early, he said he stayed indoors and felt healthy.
“I’m fine. I take it one minute at a time, talk to the kids, watch TV,” he said. “I am fine, I do not feel any symptoms of anything so I am grateful for it.”
CNN’s Sarah Westwood contributed to this story.