Release or Home Confinement for Federal Prisoners from COVID-19 Coronavirus

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Urgent and Just Responses to COVID-19 in the Federal Justice System

People incarcerated in federal prisons lack access to some of the most basic disease prevention measures. Certain cleaning supplies and sanitizers are classified as contraband, and running water, soap, and the freedom to social distance are often simply out of reach. Health experts warn that a serious and urgent response must be implemented.

Many federal correctional facilities are either unaware of the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines for disease prevention, or they are hindered from adhering to these guidelines due to a lack of resources for incarcerated individuals and the staff and officers who work in correctional facilities. We have valid  fear that the inevitable spread of the virus, which makes those who are incarcerated particularly vulnerable to the disease, and leaves these facilities as a whole susceptible to a devastating outbreak.

While all people working or living in confinement settings are at risk, the virus will be especially dangerous for the rapidly growing aging population, those with disabilities, and those with chronic health issues, such as individuals with autoimmune diseases and immunocompromised individuals.

Moreover, the impact of an inadequate response reaches far beyond incarcerated people themselves. When this highly transmissible virus passes through facilities, confined individuals are likely to contract the virus from staff who enter and exit facilities daily—and staff who have not yet been infected will be at greater risk of becoming ill.

This will be exacerbated by the significant understaffing issues already plaguing federal prisons. As concerns about contracting the virus rise for staff members, and as childcare becomes less accessible for staff members who are primary caretakers, staffing facilities will become more difficult. This will create significant safety risks for both incarcerated people and staff. Today, state/government officials, the BOP, and the DOJ still have the opportunity to act decisively in the interest of public safety before the pandemic escalates to the level of severity that it has already escalated to in other countries.

In addition to strategies to slow the spread of this virus and “flatten the curve,” we recommend mitigation strategies to prevent further dangerous situations, such as the riots and death that have occurred in facilities in China and Italy, and instead align with best practices and protect those most vulnerable with a humane, safety-focused, public health response - Much like the release of prisoners we have seen in Iran.

For this reason, a coalition of experts—many of those with lived experience—have come together to develop a list of the most urgent and necessary recommendations to ensure the well-being and safety of our communities in prison facilities. For the sake of people in prison, of prison staff, and of our entire community, we must take significant action now! The administration of correctional facilities, prosecutors, and executives must all act to limit and slow the spread of this infection in jails and prisons.

We must reduce the prison population.

  •  Particularly vulnerable people (older people, those with chronic illnesses, pregnant people, those with asthma, cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes, etc) should be allowed to go home to the care of their families. 
  • We should release people in prisons and jails who are within 2 years of completing their sentences.
  • People that are first-time offenders and/or offenders of low-level, non-violent offenses should be immediately released from prisons with transitional plans, such as home confinement or transitional housing close to their homes.
  • People with unaffordable money bails should be released. If a judge has given someone a money bond, it means that they’ve determined the person is cleared for release pretrial. Their ongoing incarceration due solely to access to money is deeply unfair and unethical, especially during this pandemic.
  • No new people should be incarcerated on money bonds. Admission of as many people as possible should be avoided. 
  • The courts should provide emergency bond reviews for all incarcerated people who request them with an increased mandate to use all options other than incarceration.
  • Release and stop jailing anyone charged with an offense that does not involve a serious physical safety risk to a reasonably identifiable person. This includes technical violations of parole or probation regardless of the underlying offense, including failures to appear.

Basic health protections should be implemented within jails and prisons.

  • We must reduce the prison, and the jail population to ensure that capacity is such that cells are not shared, there are sufficient medical beds, and enough prison staff to ensure safety for staff, those incarcerated, and visitors.

We must provide soap, CDC-recommended hand sanitizer, medical care, comprehensive sanitation and cleaning of facilities, and other safety measures as recommended by the CDC for those who remain incarcerated free of charge.

  • Parole boards should be instructed to expedite the release of those who have been granted parole and expedite new parole hearings. 
  • Incarcerated people who test positive should be released to an external healthcare facility to receive care. 
  • Solitary confinement is not a substitute for providing people in prison who are exposed to COVID-19 with proper medical care.
  • We should provide separate bathrooms for use by people who are symptomatic.
  • Ensure families and lawyers have access to regular communications channels with incarcerated loved ones or clients, including but not limited to phone calls, email, video conferencing, postage mail. Limits on calls, emails, and video conferencing should be greatly increased, the fees should be waived.

About 8% of the federal prison population is over the age of 50, the most at-risk population when it comes to the new Coronavirus. But the federal prison system makes it difficult, and perhaps impossible, for some inmates to take the basic precautions necessary to prevent an outbreak of the disease among the over 1.5 million inmates in federal and state prisons.

But one of the nation's leading prison experts and family members of inmates are calling on the government and prison officials to do more to protect those inside, including allowing inmates to use hand sanitizer and bleach for cleaning and eliminating fees for soap and doctor's visits.

"The risks of this disease are incredibly huge. It's going to spread like wildfire," said Michele Deitch, a senior lecturer at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.

 Further, older adults and those with chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune/immunocompromised, and lung disease are at higher risk of getting severely ill from the COVID-19 virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hand sanitizer and bleach are considered contraband among inmates — though guards are given hand sanitizer.

We ask that the Michael Carvajal, the BOP as a whole, the DOJ,  the DOJ's Civil rights Division, and government officials issue directives to state & federal agencies and recipients of federal funds who have the authority to act on these directives to safely reduce correctional populations and protect incarcerated individuals and staff within correctional institutions.

Family and Friends can call:

Federal BOP Regional Office -  (972) 352-4500


Federal BOP DC Office - (202) 307-3198

A massive humanitarian crisis is in process. We must act now.


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