Attorney General William Barr is ordering federal prison officials to intensify their efforts to release “vulnerable” inmates at three prison complexes that are struggling to contain major outbreaks of the coronavirus, Politico reports.
Barr is seeking to speed the process of sending selected inmates at prisons in Danbury, Ct., Oakdale, La., and Elkton, Oh., to home confinement because of the danger serious levels of infection at those facilities pose to elderly prisoners and those with pre-existing health conditions.
“We are experiencing significant levels of infection at several of our facilities,” Barr said. “We have to move with dispatch in using home confinement, where appropriate, to move vulnerable inmates out of these institutions.”
Barr said he was exercising for the first time expanded release authority Congress granted him in the stimulus bill known as the Cares Act signed by President Donald Trump. Under previous law, federal prisoners were eligible for home confinement only after they’d completed 90 percent of their sentences.
The new law allows for earlier releases if the attorney general formally declares an emergency, which he did Friday. Seven federal prisoners have died from COVID-19 so far: five at the Louisiana prison Barr is prioritizing and two at the Ohio facility. A total of 522 inmates were moved to home confinement after a Barr directive last week.
Barr’s comments supporting early releases for some inmates seemed to be at odds with remarks Trump made Thursday, when he lashed out at state and local officials for endangering the public by releasing convicted criminals and said he might step in to try to halt such releases.Nearly 175,000 people are in federal criminal custody in federally run prisons and centers run by private contractors.