Attorney General William Barr took another step to adjust the federal criminal justice system to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, encouraging prosecutors to consider the dangers posed by sending a defendant to await trial in jail as the virus sweeps into such facilities, reports Politico. Barr sent a memo to top federal prosecutors across the U.S. urging them to consider not only the risks a defendant might face in detention, but the risk inherent in increasing the jail population as virus cases are rising. “You should now consider the medical risks associated with individuals being remanded into federal custody during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Barr wrote. “Even with the extensive precautions we are currently taking, each time a new person is added to a jail, it presents at least some risk to the personnel who operate that facility and to the people incarcerated therein.”
While Barr’s directive seems intended to have prosecutors show more flexibility in considering release, bail or home confinement, the memo is replete with caveats and warnings that defendants who pose a threat to public safety still need to be detained. “Controlling weight should be given to public safety, and under no circumstances should those who present a risk to any person or the community be released,” the attorney general wrote. “COVID-19 presents real risks, but so does allowing violent gang members and child predators to roam free.” Barr’s statements strike a different done from those of President Donald Trump. Asked at a briefing what he was doing to protect prisoners, Trump criticized state and local officials who have ordered releases of some inmates to lower prison populations and lessen the impact of the virus.