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April 1, 2020

Federal Defenders write to AG Barr to detail concerns with BOP/DOJ response to COVID-19

I just learned of this new letter from Federal Public & Community Defenders to Attorney General William Barr.  I recommend the 11-page letter in full, and here is how it gets started (with footnotes omitted):

On March 19, 2020, we wrote to you to warn that our jails and prisons were in “grave and imminent danger.” We urged you to take “immediate and decisive action” to address the impending spread of COVID-19 among incarcerated persons. That same day, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) confirmed the first presumed-positive COVID-19 cases in the federal prison system.

Despite our warnings—and those of Congress, policy groups, and public health and legal expert s— the Department of Justice (DOJ) has failed to respond appropriately to this global pandemic.  , DOJ’s response rests on its view that that “many inmates will be safer in BOP facilities.” DOJ has relied on this false premise to oppose release in a wide range of cases, and as the foundation of policies such as your March 26, 2020, “Memorandum for Director of Bureau Prisons.” (“March 26 Policy”).  That policy fails to take advantage of DOJ’s existing tools to transfer vulnerable and low-risk inmates quickly to home confinement. Instead, it erects a complex set of procedural and logistical hurdles to home confinement.  These hurdles are largely arbitrary, bear little nexus to the current public health crisis, and will disparately harm persons of color. This inadequate response to COVID-19 continues to endanger the individuals who live and work in BOP facilities.

You now have the authority, under the CARES Act, to allow BOP to transfer many more people to the relative safety of home confinement.  But you have not made the finding necessary to allow BOP to do so.  Instead, yesterday BOP announced a new plan (“Phase 5”) that amounts to no more than a 14-day lockdown for all federal prisoners.10 It is certain to fail.  The real problem — as public health experts agree — is that there are simply too many people in the prisons.  The only rational, humane response to this crisis is to greatly reduce the prison population. Locking people down in institutions with inadequate medical care and poor sanitation is not the answer.

This past Saturday, March 28, 2020, marked a grim milestone. Patrick Estell Jones, 49, became the first individual in BOP custody to die of COVID-19.  He was serving a sentence in a low-security facility for a non-violent crack cocaine offense.  His death will surely not be the last. The day after Mr. Jones’s death, the Washington Post reported that 30 more inmates and staff at Oakdale had tested positive for COVID-19.  The numbers of positive-COVID-19 cases in BOP are beginning to exponentially escalate: on March 27, 2020, BOP’s website reported a total of 18 COVID-19 positive inmates and staff; today, it reports 59 confirmed cases.  There are increasing reports of positive diagnoses of individuals detained in federal pretrial custody by the United States Marshals Service.

These diagnoses are “almost certainly an undercount.”  Many in the federal prison population are at grave risk of severe illness or death.  There are approximately 10,000 individuals over the age of 60 presently in federal custody, and one third of all individuals in BOP custody have preexisting conditions.  But there are measures that DOJ can take now to avert catastrophe.  We urge you to immediately reduce the number of people entering federal detention and aggressively transfer or release individuals who are already incarcerated into the community.

April 1, 2020 at 06:22 PM | Permalink

Comments

I am a mother of a son now at Marrianna FCI who volunteered for hurricane relief. He has a pattern score of - 8 and eligible for early prerelease. He is in lockdown for the 14 days. I worry everyday for his life. He is a non violent offender age 50. I appreciate all you are doing for them. Thank you and God Bless You!

Posted by: Judy | Apr 2, 2020 1:14:38 PM

RELEASE THEM NOW, I promise if something happens to my loved one, I will sue the living Christ out of the BOP, it is a disgusting place on it's best day but instead they have locked them down all together in the women's FMC CARSWELL facility since they dont have doors or toilets in their room. Barr get off your ass and do something. Just visiting the federal prison you can see the laziness is rampant. Guards don't care, do nothing, Warden doesn't do anything. What are they waiting for? The virus to take hold so no guards will show up to feed and help these people, this is a real apocalypse waiting to happen to the most vulnerable people in this Country.

Posted by: Randy | Apr 3, 2020 12:14:01 AM

Free lenny Anders

Posted by: Rhonda Priester | Apr 12, 2020 8:50:50 PM

Free lenny Anders

Posted by: Rhonda Priester | Apr 12, 2020 8:51:09 PM

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