One year since they first recommended that federal prisons trim their inmate counts to maximize safety against the novel coronavirus, a Senate committee demanded answers Thursday from officials now grappling with a distressing body count, reports the Courthouse News Service. At the state and federal level, 1,700 individuals have died behind bars of the virus. The death toll within the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) meanwhile includes 230 inmates and at least four staff members. The pandemic infected more than 275,000 incarcerated people across the United States. Michael Carvajal, director of the BOP for the last 14 months, insisted that any inmate who qualified for home confinement received it. The only disqualifying charges were a primary offense of violence, a sex offense, terrorism or a deportation order. He claimed that the Bureau has transferred over 24,000 inmates to home confinement since the passage of the CARES Act stimulus package. More than 7,000 inmates are home today.
When lawmakers suggested that the BOP use the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program, which was reauthorized and expanded by the First Step Act, to send vulnerable inmates home, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) pointed out that the framework the Justice Department uses to evaluate candidates for home confinement and compassionate release helped some more than others. Carvajal acknowledged that the tool had disproportionately aided white inmates over people of color. In January 2020, the tool was updated after a review found that the criteria based on the age of the inmate’s first arrest, first conviction and voluntary surrender led to a bias against inmates of color who are also disproportionately policed, arrested and convicted.