Advocates for inmates who have been arrested in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, breach of the U.S. Capitol have lamented the lack of national attention being given to the inhumane conditions facing those still in detention.
That changed on Jan. 21, when conservative writer Julie Kelly testified about the matter at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
That hearing followed months of unsuccessful attempts by some Republican lawmakers to find answers on how Jan. 6 inmates are being treated. GOP House members were interrupted by left-wing protestors while trying to hold a press conference on the matter in July 2021, and the lawmakers were barred from a Washington jail housing 50 defendants when they tried to check on their conditions days later.
While the inmates reported marginal improvement in treatment after a visit by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to the Washington facility, Kelly told committee members that conditions have apparently regressed since then.
“One detainee I spoke with this week, an Army reservist charged with no violent crime, said the D.C. jail is on a 22-hour lockdown due to COVID,” said Kelly, a writer for American Greatness.
She voiced concerns that the inmates and their families have been raising for the past year, which include a lack of access to worship, legal counsel, phones, and basic hygiene.
“These defendants haven’t been convicted of any crime, most have no criminal record, and some don’t even face charges of violence,” she said. “It appears as if the D.C. jail is a political prison.”
Questions were asked largely along party lines, with Republicans probing the Jan. 6, 2021, issue further, while Democrats questioned other witnesses about the BOP’s COVID-19 response and other issues.
Rep. Thomas Tiffany (R-Wis.) asked Alison Guernsey, a clinical associate professor of law at the University of Iowa, whether she agrees with Kelly’s assessment of how inmates from the Jan. 6, 2021, incident are being treated.
“I do think some of the things happening to the Jan. 6 defendants are truly appalling, but I don’t think they’re isolated to the Jan. 6 defendants,” Guernsey said.
Guernsey discussed the BOP’s alleged refusal to provide data about compassionate release—a program created under the Trump administration—through which eligible inmates can qualify for early release.
“What I think is quite troubling is that a lot of the information this committee may seek has already been ordered to be provided. The First Step Act provides that the BOP shall provide the data as to how many people applied for compassionate release, how long did it take, and the justifications for the denials—did someone die while their application was pending?” she said.
“And the BOP is simply not providing that data.”
Guernsey also said the BOP isn’t providing accurate COVID-19 data. According to the BOP, 279 federal inmates have died from the coronavirus. But Guernsey said that number doesn’t include those housed in private prisons and that it sometimes takes the BOP six months or longer to update its data.
Some inmates are released when they’re on their deathbeds, according to Guernsey.
“They’re literally released so they don’t die in chains,” she said. “I’ve talked to families who didn’t even know their family member died of COVID.”
Democrats accused Republicans of ignoring these problems, except when it comes to Jan. 6 inmates.
“In 2015, the Washington Lawyers Committee for civil rights released a report condemning conditions in the D.C. jails. Those findings were ignored until a more diverse population was incarcerated there,” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-N.Y.), who blamed the broken prison system on the U.S. government’s mass-incarceration policy.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) said she “wishes she would’ve heard these concerns when we were talking about mostly black and brown people.”
Rather than argue, Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) agreed that the problems with the federal prison system are widespread. They and other House members called for another hearing with BOP officials to answer their questions.
Subcommittee Chair Val Demings (D-Fla.), who also said she agreed that jail conditions for Jan. 6, 2021, inmates are “filthy,” ended the relatively collegial meeting by announcing that BOP officials are scheduled to appear at a Feb. 3 hearing.
The Epoch Times emailed the BOP, seeking a response to the criticisms leveled during the hearing. In response, the BOP sent a link to what it said is “the most up-to-date information regarding First Step Act, including compassionate release and reduction in sentence numbers.”