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Vulnerable Prisoners' Releases Hit Hurdles

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Many inmates remain in custody despite Attorney General William Barr’s directive to the Federal Bureau of Prisons to begin sending vulnerable, nonviolent prisoners home to serve their sentences under house arrest.

By    |   Tuesday, 26 May 2020 11:45 AM EDT

While celebrity inmates, like former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, made headlines as they were released from prison as the coronavirus rampaged through federal prisons, a majority of prisoners remain behind bars even after the Justice Department pushed for vulnerable, nonviolent inmates to serve their sentences at home.

ProPublica reports that 98% of inmates remain in custody despite Attorney General William Barr’s directive to the Federal Bureau of Prisons to begin sending prisoners home to serve their sentences under house arrest. Barr issued two memos advocating to remove prisoners at risk of catching the virus from prisons in late March and early April. Prison officials were to grant “priority treatment” to inmates deemed to present minimal risk to the public.

While Barr was pushing for the release of inmates, the Bureau of Prisons was changing its policy on what makes an inmate a “minimum risk.”

The policy change would make it more difficult for inmates to qualify for home arrest release, according to a copy of the document that ProPublica obtained.

While the draft did not appear to be finalized, many lawyers and prison reform advocates said they were surprised by its existence.

“It really tanks the whole enterprise if, once an instrument is selected, it can be strategically altered to make sure low-risk people don’t get released,” Brandon Garrett, a law professor at Duke University who studies risk-assessment tools, told ProPublica. “If you change the cut points, you’ve effectively changed the instrument.”

Justin Long, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, confirmed that the bureau had revised the risk categories without informing the public. Because the policy was not completed, Long said it was “not authorized for release.”

Prison officials have been using the new document when weighing whether to release an inmate. Lawyers told ProPublica that fewer prisoners have been released than expected since Barr made his announcement.

Prison records show that about 3,050 inmates have been moved to home confinement as of May 21, which is about 1.8% of the people under the bureau’s supervision. ProPublica estimates about 20% of inmates would fall into the minimum risk category and possibly be eligible for home release. That number shrinks under the new guidelines. 

“There’s been nothing but confusion,” David Patton, the chief federal public defender for the New York City area, said. 

On May 19, a federal judge accused officials at the Elkton Federal Correctional Institution in Ohio for moving too slowly on the release of inmates. The prison had a virus outbreak. The judge directed prison officials to expand the class of inmates eligible for home confinement by including inmates not only with minimum-risk scores, but also those said to have a low risk. The Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to halt the order.

The Justice Department’s inspector general will examine Barr’s directive and the Bureau of Prisons’ compliance with it as well as the agency’s overall response to the pandemic.

© 2024 Newsmax. All rights reserved.


US
While celebrity inmates, like former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, made headlines as they were released from prison as the coronavirus rampaged through federal prisons, a majority of prisoners remain behind bars even after the Justice Department pushed for . . .
prison releases, attorney general, william barr
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2020-45-26
Tuesday, 26 May 2020 11:45 AM
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