By Sean R. Francis, M.S.

President, Justice Solutions of America, Inc. 

While they initially were slow to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, recent signs show that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is aggressively taking steps to stop the spread of the deadly virus in their institutions. In March Attorney General William Barr ordered the BOP to immediately expedite the transfer of eligible inmates to home confinement. While there was initial confusion in the implementation of the Attorney General’s directive, the BOP and DOJ have recently issued updated guidance on exactly who is able to be released during this time of crisis. This new criterion was recently disclosed in a court hearing in the Southern District of New York. The new criteria is as follows:
“[Bureau of Prisons] is at this time prioritizing for consideration those inmates who either (1) have served 50% or more of their sentences, or (2) have 18 months or less remaining in their sentences and have served 25% or more of their sentences,” the filing said. “As BOP processes the inmates eligible for home confinement under these criteria and learns more about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on BOP facilities, it is assessing whether and how to otherwise priority consideration.”

Thus far the BOP has released 1,440 inmates to home confinement. While this is a small drop in the bucket, considering that there are close to 200,000 federal inmates, it is important to remember that only a small percentage of inmates meet all of the criteria for release outlined by the Attorney General. It is also important to remember that this is a rapidly developing situation, requiring the BOP to adapt and adjust to increasingly fluctuating guidance from Washington.

Additionally, we are seeing signs of aggressive testing in some of the hardest hit federal prisons. In Butner, N.C., a correctional complex with multiple separate prisons, confirmed cases have soared. FCC Butner now has the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the federal prison system.  This past week 185 cases were reported, almost all coming from one of the medium security prisons (FCI I) and adjacent satellite camp. In response, the BOP has tested all inmates for the virus and quarantined those testing positive at the low security prison on the complex grounds. https://www.newsobserver.com/news/coronavirus/article242327466.html
Additionally, the BOP has provided all staff and inmates at the prison with face masks and required them to be worn. https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/12/us/butner-prison-coronavirus-cases/index.html

As of April 28th, 2020, there are 1046 federal inmates and 330 staff who have confirmed positive test results for COVID-19 and 28 inmate deaths. While they may have gotten off to a slow start the BOP is clearly taking this seriously and working to flatten the curve in their institutions.May 1st, 2020

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