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April 16, 2020

Brennan Center and other reform group urge Attorney General Barr to do more to "stop the spread of the novel coronavirus behind bars"

I just saw this new letter addressed to Attorney General William Barr coming from the Brennan Center for Justice and other leading criminal justice reform groups on the topic of "Expanding BOP’s Response to the Novel Coronavirus, and Helping States Safely Reduce their Prison Populations." Here is how the seven-page letter gets started:

We write to ask that the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) take a leadership role in helping the nation’s criminal justice systems adapt to the challenges presented by the novel coronavirus.

America’s prisons and jails present unique health dangers, and are especially vulnerable to the spread of infectious disease — problems that the outbreak of the novel coronavirus throw into sharp relief.  Absent additional interventions, COVID-19 will continue spreading through incarcerated populations, and our nation’s correctional officers and staff, at an alarming rate.

We thank you for the steps you have taken to respond to this crisis, including expanding the use of home confinement by the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”).  As you acknowledge, the BOP has a “profound obligation to protect the health and safety of all inmates” requires nothing less.  Yet more must be done to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus behind bars.  Even if the BOP’s recent lockdown slows transmission among people who remain imprisoned in its facilities, it will also stretch tensions behind bars even further. And, correctional administrators nationwide face similar pressures.

We therefore urge you to take two important steps.  First, we ask that you expand the use of home confinement even further, as detailed below.

Second, the DOJ can encourage states to respond more proactively to this crisis.  We therefore ask that you circulate a “Dear Colleague” letter among state criminal justice stakeholders — including governors, prosecutors, judges, correctional administrators, and public defenders — urging them to work together to adopt policies to limit the virus’s impact.  Those policies should include (1) releasing people from prison who do not pose a public safety threat, thus decreasing population density and viral transmission risk; and (2) improving health behind bars by making hygiene products and medical services broadly available.  This guidance would underscore the federal government’s commitment to zealously confronting a threat to the wellbeing of imprisoned people and those who work in correctional institutions nationwide.

We explain both proposals below. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

April 16, 2020 at 04:07 PM | Permalink


Thank you for writing on this group effort!

Posted by: Ames Grawert | Apr 16, 2020 6:01:01 PM

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