US attorney general orders release of more federal inmates due to coronavirus pandemic

WASHINGTON: US Attorney General William Barr declared on Friday (Apr 3) that the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is facing emergency conditions due to the fast-spreading coronavirus, paving the way for the agency to begin releasing more inmates out of custody and into home confinement.

Barr said under his emergency order, priority for releasing vulnerable inmates into home confinement should be given first to those housed in federal prisons that have been hardest hit by COVID-19, including facilities such as Oakdale in Louisiana, Elkton in Ohio and Danbury in Connecticut.

Barr’s order comes after five inmates at FCI Oakdale 1 and two at FCI Elkton 1 died from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

The BOP said Friday that 91 inmates and 50 of its staff members throughout its 122 institutions have fallen ill with COVID-19. Union officials and families of prisoners have told Reuters they believe the number of people sickened with the virus is much higher.

The US$2 trillion stimulus bill signed by President Donald Trump last week included a provision designed to make it easier for federal prisons to release more inmates into home confinement to help control the coronavirus outbreak. Prior to the stimulus law, the BOP could release to home confinement only inmates who had already served at least 90 per cent of their sentence or had no more than six months left to go.

The new law allows the BOP director greater discretion to release a larger cohort of inmates. But it required that Barr first declare a state of emergency for the federal prison system.

“For all inmates whom you deem suitable candidates for home confinement, you are directed to immediately process them for transfer and then immediately transfer them following a 14-day quarantine,” Barr directed the BOP in a memo released late Friday.

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