US Attorney General Orders Release of More Federal Inmates Due to CCP Virus Pandemic

April 4, 2020 Updated: April 4, 2020

WASHINGTON—U.S. Attorney General William Barr declared on Friday that the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is facing emergency conditions due to the fast-spreading CCP virus, paving the way for the agency to begin releasing more inmates out of custody and into home confinement.

Barr said under his emergency order, priority for releasing vulnerable inmates into home confinement should be given first to those housed in federal prisons that have been hardest hit by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus. That includes facilities such as Oakdale in Louisiana, Elkton in Ohio, and Danbury in Connecticut.

Barr’s order comes after five inmates at FCI Oakdale 1 and two at FCI Elkton 1 died from the CCP virus.

The BOP said Friday that 91 inmates and 50 of its staff throughout its 122 institutions have fallen ill with the virus. Union officials and families of prisoners have told Reuters they believe the number of people sickened with the viral infection is much higher.

Earlier this week, the BOP took the unprecedented step of ordering all of its facilities to place inmates into a 14-day quarantine by confining them to their cells or living quarters.

The $2 trillion stimulus bill signed by President Donald Trump last week included a provision designed to make it easier for federal prisons to release more inmates into home confinement to help control the pandemic. Before the stimulus law, the BOP could release to home confinement only inmates who had already served at least 90 percent of their sentences or had no more than six months left to go.

The new law allows the BOP director more considerable discretion to release a larger cohort of inmates. But it required that Barr first declare a state of emergency for the federal prison system.

“For all inmates whom you deem suitable candidates for home confinement, you are directed to immediately process them for transfer and then immediately transfer them following a 14-day quarantine,” Barr directed the BOP in a memo released late Friday.

Criminal-justice advocates have warned that U.S. jails and prison are potential hothouses for infection. Inmates live in close quarters, share bathrooms and dining halls, and often have limited access to health care.

Earlier on Friday, Reuters reported that federal prosecutors around the country in recent weeks had fought back against a variety of efforts by inmates to be released, even temporarily, due to the pandemic.

In court filings, prosecutors have urged judges to deny release on bond to defendants who are in jail awaiting trial and suggested that some inmates with pre-existing medical conditions would be safer in prison than at home, among other arguments.

U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler cheered Barr’s order on Friday, saying it was a much-needed action to help lower the prison population amid the pandemic.

“This is a positive development, and I urge appropriate and swift use of this power,” Nadler said in a statement.

By Sarah N. Lynch

Epoch Times staff contributed to this report.