The onset of the pandemic in the United States in early 2020 has renewed concerns regarding prison population overcrowding throughout the country, as well as heightened health and safety concerns among those incarcerated and their families. Requests for early release, compassionate release, and conversion to home confinement have flooded the justice systems in most states as loved ones of the incarcerated seek a safer alternative to imprisonment and potential exposure to COVID-19.
A viral outbreak in crowded, confined spaces like prisons is not hypothetical nor improbable. According to a recent global statement from leading health organizations and professionals, “We, the leaders of global health, human rights and development institutions, come together to urgently draw the attention of political leaders to the heightened vulnerability of prisoners and other people deprived of liberty to the COVID-19 pandemic, and urge them to take all appropriate public health measures in respect of this vulnerable population that is part of our communities.“
Here in the US, early release and home confinement is not a new option; however, it is also not an overly-approved or used option for those convicted. Release data since the signing of the 2018 First Step Act, legislation designed to allow elderly or the medically-vulnerable seek alternatives to mass confinement centers, shows only 144 granted releases before April 2, 2020. In the three weeks following April 2, 89 other prisoners – nationwide – received compassionate release.
When Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), the Bureau of Prison (BOP) facilities were declared to have “emergency conditions.” With this declaration, the BOP also received a directive from Attorney General William Barr which urged and authorized an increase of prisoners eligible for home confinement, particularly those at centers heavily impacted by the virus; allowed for expanded eligibility for home confinement, including increasing the percentage of a sentence allowed to be carried out in home confinement; and the granting of sentence modifications for medically vulnerable and elderly populations at high risk for COVID-19 complications.
Although the Attorney General issued the memo, there has been a lot of confusion around implementation by the BOP. Several cases of what seemed to be clear-cut eligibility have been denied release to home confinement. Initial FAQs posted to the BOP website have been removed, and motions are being examined on a case-by-case basis. Many incarcerated individuals are turning to attorneys to file Compassionate Release motions, rather than seeking relief under the CARES Act provision.
If you need to file for Compassionate Release on behalf of a loved one, contact one of our Criminal Defense Attorneys today.
Although no national, written guidance is in effect, the feedback is often that motions need to be very specifically tailored to an inmate’s medical fragilities or vulnerabilities, in combination with the presence of COVID-19 in the country, with special considerations given to facilities inundated with the virus or at risk.
It’s important to note that the approved release of an inmate to home confinement is NOT a “get of jail free” card. Even before the passage of the CARES Act, the BOP had “a policy to release inmates to Home Confinement for the last 10% of their prison term or 6 months, whichever was less. Inmates from all security levels, even high security penitentiaries were sent home from either a federal facility or halfway house to complete the term of imprisonment with certain restrictions.”
According to sources in an article from Forbes, “BOP is, at this time, prioritizing those inmates who either (1) have served 50% or more of their sentences, or (2) have 18 months or less remaining in their sentences and have served 25% or more of their sentence. The BOP has discretion under the CARES Act to send anyone to Home Confinement no matter how long their sentence. There is no policy stating that Home Confinement is only available to a person who has served a certain amount of their sentence.”
What does all of this mean for your loved one and those at risk in general prison populations? Many who have sought home confinement, compassionate release, or early release, particularly in Texas, Ohio, Maryland and Tennessee, have been told they were on a list to be approved, or even told they were approved, only to later be told the opposite. Since no concrete national guidelines exist, many prison administrators seem to be creating their own guidelines.
At this time, it seems best to contact a criminal defense attorney who can work with the specific institutions and state or federal prosecutors to file the appropriate motion to ensure that any medically fragile, at-risk, or otherwise eligible person has the option to seek alternate conclusions for their sentences.
Our criminal defense attorneys have already been involved, and had success, with pursuing such releases for those incarcerated. Contact us today to see what options are available for your loved one : (704) 512-0606.