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April 6, 2020

Attorney General Barr instructs federal prosecutors to consider "vulnerability to COVID-19" when litigating pre-trial detention issues

As reported in this new Politico piece, "Attorney General Bill Barr is taking another step to adjust the federal criminal justice system to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, encouraging prosecutors to consider the dangers posed by sending a defendant to await trial in jail as the virus sweeps into such facilities."  Here is more:

Barr sent a memo Monday to top federal prosecutors across the country urging them to consider not only the risks a defendant might face in detention, but the risk inherent in increasing the jail population at a time when cases of the virus are on the increase.

“You should now consider the medical risks associated with individuals being remanded into federal custody during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Barr wrote in his two-page missive. “Even with the extensive precautions we are currently taking, each time a new person is added to a jail, it presents at least some risk to the personnel who operate that facility and to the people incarcerated therein.”

While Barr’s directive seems intended to prod prosecutors to show more flexibility in considering release, bail or home confinement pending trial, the memo is replete with caveats and warnings that defendants who pose a threat to public safety still need to be detained despite the challenges the virus is creating for jails and prisons nationwide....

The new directives from Barr come as the Justice Department is increasingly besieged with lawsuits, writs and legal motions seeking release of individual inmates as well as large classes of prisoners considered most vulnerable to serious illness or death from Covid-19.

As of Sunday, the federal Bureau of Prisons reported 138 inmates have been confirmed as infected with the virus.  Eight deaths from it have been recorded.  Barr’s memo from Friday urged prison official to make a priority of considering early releases for three prison complexes suffering serious outbreaks — those in Oakdale, La., Elkton, Ohio and Danbury, Conn.

One new suit filed Monday seeks release of prisoners at the Oakdale complex considered at highest risk from the illness.

The full text of this new two-page Barr memo is available at this link.

April 6, 2020 at 05:38 PM | Permalink

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