Attorney General William Barr said on Thursday that he had directed the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to assess whether it was possible to expand home confinement “particularly for those older prisoners who have served substantial parts of their sentence and no longer pose a threat and may have underlying conditions that make them particularly vulnerable.”
“We have authorities under the first step act and under other general authorities … will permit us to release to home confinement for certain designated circumstances,” Barr said during an unrelated press conference. “And I’ve asked and issued a memorandum just today to the Bureau of Prisons to increase the use of home confinement based on a number of factors.”
He said this includes assessing on a case-by-case basis whether an individual will be safer outside than inside prison. Moreover, he added that if anyone is to be released for home confinement, the individual would need to be quarantined for 14 days prior to leaving to ensure that the prisons are not putting people in the community at risk.
This comes after lawmakers and advocacy groups called on the Trump administration to reduce federal prison populations in order to prevent the spread of the CCP virus, also known as the novel coronavirus.
The Epoch Times refers to the virus, which causes the disease COVID-19, as the CCP virus because the regime’s coverup and mismanagement allowed the virus to spread throughout China and fan a global pandemic.
Meanwhile, public health experts and epidemiologists have also raised concerns about the potential spread of the CCP virus inside prisons. Chris Beyrer, a professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, previously told The Epoch Times that the risks of people contracting respiratory diseases such as COVID-19 are higher in prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers.
Beyrer said implementing social distancing in those facilities is difficult and access to hand sanitizers and other hygiene products is limited.
There are currently 175,376 inmates held in federal prisons either run by the BOP or private corporations, according to the agency. Over 10,000 among this population are over the age of 60. As of March 26, there are 10 confirmed cases of the virus among federal inmates and eight confirmed cases among federal prison staff, according to the BOP website.
Barr said among the 10,000 inmates that are aged 60 and over, 40 percent of them are serving sentences for violent crimes or sex offenses.
The attorney general added that he believes the BOP has generally been able to handle outbreaks in the prison system. He cited the example of the 2018 and 2019 flu season, saying that the percentage of people who sought medical attention for the flu inside prison was lower than on the outside.
“We want to make sure that our institutions don’t become petri dishes and it spreads rather rapidly through a particular institution,” he said. “But we have the protocols that are designed to stop that.”
The BOP previously told The Epoch Times that it had been making plans to address the epidemic since January and have consulted many experts. The agency on March 13 released a number of measures to mitigate the transmission of the virus in federal prisons. Some measures include suspending social visits for 30 days, suspending legal visits for 30 days, with case-by-case accommodation being granted, and also suspending inmate facility transfers for 30 days.
Barr said during the press conference that the BOP has a “very substantial in house medical staff” of about 2,400 doctors and medical professionals. He added that the prison has a “very robust regime” in place to address the virus including using special tools that are not available outside the facility.
He said this includes the ability to actually physically lock down establishments to quarantine people, monitor contacts, and provide in-house medical care. New arrivals are also subjected to a mandatory 14 day quarantine period.
“The bureau has a very rigorous set of protocols that it has put into place and it’s constantly expanding them as it learns more,” he said.
Some of the facilities that have confirmed cases have been placed under lockdown, he said.
In order to prevent the spread of the virus in prisons, several states have begun or have committed to releasing inmates, including in New York, Florida, and New Jersey.