Barr Order: Increase Home Confinement 04/04 10:49
Attorney General William Barr ordered the Bureau of Prisons on Friday to
increase the use of home confinement and expedite the release of eligible
high-risk inmates at three federal prisons where coronavirus cases have
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Attorney General William Barr ordered the Bureau of
Prisons on Friday to increase the use of home confinement and expedite the
release of eligible high-risk inmates at three federal prisons where
coronavirus cases have skyrocketed.
Officials were told to give highest priority to inmates who are being held
at FCC Oakdale, a prison complex in Louisiana where five inmates have died and
more than a dozen others remain hospitalized. Also listed were FCI Elkton in
Ohio --- where three inmates have died --- and FCI Danbury in Connecticut,
which has reported 20 inmates testing positive for coronavirus.
"We have to move with dispatch in using home confinement, where appropriate,
to move vulnerable inmates out of these institutions," Barr said in a Friday
evening memo to the prison system's director.
As of Friday night, 91 inmates and 50 staff members had tested positive for
coronavirus at federal correctional facilities across the U.S., the agency
said. Congressional leaders and prison advocates have been pressing the Justice
Department for weeks to release at-risk inmates ahead of a potential outbreak,
arguing that the public health guidance to stay 6 feet away from other people
is nearly impossible behind bars.
The situation at Oakdale --- where union officials say hundreds of inmates
are quarantined --- is fueling fear among inmates and staff members in the rest
of the Bureau of Prisons system that the virus could spread just as rapidly at
any of the other 121 correctional facilities, though the rate of infection
compared with outside prison is low. Health officials have been warning for
more than a decade about the dangers of epidemics in jails and prisons, which
are ideal environments for virus outbreaks.
Earlier this week, the agency moved into a new phase of its coronavirus
response plan: a nationwide lockdown, keeping all federal inmates locked in
their cells for 14 days.
Robert Morris, the local union president for officers at Oakdale, said
Barr's order was a "smart call" that "might save some inmate lives."
At the hard-hit federal prison in Elkton, Ohio, all employees were given N95
masks this week and plans were in the works to give all 2,500 inmates surgical
masks, local union president Joseph Mayle said.
He applauded Barr's order for inmates, but said employees there were "being
forced to come to work against doctors' orders to self-quarantine because the
agency refuses to give them emergency leave."
In the memo, Barr said the protections the Bureau of Prisons has put in
place "have not been perfectly successful at all institutions." He ordered the
agency to conduct a review and identify all inmates who may have coronavirus
risk factors, beginning with those at Oakdale, Danbury and Elkton.
Under the order, once the Bureau of Prisons identifies an inmate as someone
who could serve a sentence at home, they must immediately prepare to release
them to home confinement, Barr wrote. All of those inmates would be subject to
a 14-day quarantine, officials said.