Well, here’s something that the men and women in law enforcement, stretched thin for resources as they are, will love to hear: House Democrats want to open federal prison cells across the country to “release as many prisoners as possible,” even as Attorney General William Barr tries to push for more home confinement.
According to Fox News, in a letter to Attorney General William Barr, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee said it was time to let the inmates out after the death of the first federal prisoner from COVID-19.
Patrick Jones, a 49-year-old man who was serving a 27-year sentence, died at a low-security facility in Oakdale, Louisiana, last week.
“On Thursday, March 19, 2020, inmate Patrick Jones complained of a persistent cough at the Federal Correctional (FCI) Oakdale I in Oakdale, Louisiana. He was evaluated by institutional medical staff and transported to a local hospital for further treatment and evaluation,” the federal Bureau of Prisons said in a statement, according to Forbes.
“While at the local hospital, Mr. Jones tested positive for COVID-19. On Friday, March 20, 2020, his condition declined and he was placed on a ventilator. On Saturday, March 28, 2020, who had a long-term, pre-existing medical conditions which the CDC lists as risk factors for developing more severe COVID-19 diseases, was pronounced dead by hospital staff.”
In the Monday letter, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York and California Rep. Karen Bass, the chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security — both Democrats — urged Barr to start releasing inmates from prisons, given the high infection rate behind bars.
“We call on you, in the most urgent terms, to do the right thing and exercise this authority [to modify prisoners’ sentences] and immediately move to release medically-compromised, elderly and pregnant prisoners from the custody of the BOP,” the letter read.
“In addition, we urge that you use every tool at your disposal to release as many prisoners as possible, to protect them from COVID-19.”
The representatives were also concerned the BOP didn’t have enough equipment to monitor prisoners once they’re released.
“Your memorandum states that any individuals released because of the COVID-19 pandemic will be released with location monitoring,” they said.
“If this is the case, we ask that you ensure that there are enough resources to provide monitoring equipment free of charge to those individuals released and that you ensure that there is enough equipment available, so that no one is kept behind bars because of a lack of availability of equipment.”
Here’s the thing, though: Barr had already introduced an initiative to release some federal prisoners to home confinement.
In the memorandum to the Bureau of Prisons, sent Thursday, the attorney general said several factors would be taken into consideration when deciding to release prisoners, including their age, the crime they committed, the security level of the prison they were being held at, their conduct behind bars, their risk assessment and whether they have “a demonstrated and verifiable re-entry plan that will prevent recidivism and maximize public safety.”
That, according to House Democrats, wasn’t going to get enough prisoners released.
“The criteria you set forth for BOP to utilize in prioritizing who should be placed in home confinement during the COVID- 19 pandemic, although discretionary, will likely preclude the expeditious release of many prisoners who should be released,” the letter read.
Reps. Nadler and Bass expressed concern that PATTERN, the BOP’s risk assessment tool, may be problematic “because of possible racial/ethnic and gender bias and because of the tool’s overemphasis on static factors such as criminal history.
“Moreover, as you know, PATTERN was created for an entirely different purpose than for assessing whether prisoners should be released during a pandemic. For these reasons, we urge BOP not to use a prisoner’s PATTERN score as a consideration for whether they should be released to home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The letter also specified issues with the use of re-entry plans and the prioritization of inmates in low- and minimum-security prisons.
“Your memorandum specifies that priority should be given to inmates in low- and minimum-security facilities and that “serious” offenses should weigh more heavily against consideration for home detention,” the letter read.
“These limitations, unfortunately, beg the question of what you do with individuals who are at a high risk for contracting COVID-19 who are not in low- or minimum-security facilities, who have been convicted of serious offenses, or who have high PATTERN risk scores.”
Let’s leave aside the incorrect use of “beg the question” to mean “raises the question” as opposed to a logical fallacy. It’s the least worrisome part of those two sentences.
Here’s a brilliant idea: Let’s let people out no matter what crime they committed or what their risk assessment score is.
Let’s further assume that people who are in low- and minimum-security prisons are just there because of a random accident.
I’m sure this will all work out just fine.
There were numerous sets of eyes that read over this document before it was sent and released to the public, and nobody seemed to notice the problem there.
And that’s the crux of the issue with the entire document.
It’s become clear to everyone that we’re at the juncture where some prisoners need to be released to home confinement because of COVID-19 concerns. In fact, Barr is in the process of doing just that. The Democrats think he’s putting up too many roadblocks. Fair enough.
That serious concern becomes considerably less serious when Reps. Nadler and Bass sign their names to a letter in which they actually say that taking the safety profile of the prisoners being released to home confinement into account begs the question of what you do with prisoners deemed not safe enough to release. You … don’t release them. Question un-begged.
There are other measures that can be taken to protect prisoners from exposure to coronavirus, including limiting transfers.
How effective these measures will be remains to be seen.
That said, releasing individuals with a poor safety profile into the community is too dangerous to risk.
The fact that this request seems to align so nicely with the Democrats positions on the necessity of incarceration before the crisis probably ought to tip you off that this has less to do with the exigencies of the moment and more to do with expediency.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.