House Democrats press Barr to protect inmates from coronavirus

House Democrats press Barr to protect inmates from coronavirus
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A pair of House Democrats are pushing Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrFederal plan to contain Washington protests employs 7,600 personnel: report Davis: 72 hours cementing the real choice for November Black Lives Matter, protesters sue Trump admin over aggressive crowd clearing MORE to outline how the Department of Justice is protecting the federal inmate population from the coronavirus outbreak.

Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse Judiciary Committee to hold hearing on police brutality next week House Judiciary to hear whistleblowers on 'politicization' of Justice Dept under Trump House Democrats unveil measure to condemn police brutality MORE (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Barr Thursday after a previous inquiry from last week went unanswered.

He was joined by Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassHouse Judiciary Committee to hold hearing on police brutality next week Minority caucuses call for quick action on police reform Hoyer: Gassing of protestors 'worthy' of Trump censure MORE (D-Calif.) in urging Barr to take immediate steps to protect Department of Justice (DOJ) personnel and inmates under their watch.

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"With large numbers of people living in close proximity to one another, many of them elderly or living with chronic diseases, DOJ must act now to save lives," the lawmakers wrote. "Accordingly, we urge you to put in place measures to ensure that both the flow of prisoners into federal facilities is slowed significantly and that prisoners who can and should be released are released forthwith. We cannot wait any longer to take action."

Between the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the U.S. Marshall Service (USMS), the department oversees about 250,000 convicts and inmates awaiting trial.

With federal authorities urging Americans to isolate themselves to protect against the spread of infection, many are concerned about the cloistered prison populations in the U.S. and the conditions they face.

BOP announced earlier this month that it would suspend all inmate transfers and visits as a precaution against the virus.

Local prosecutors and police departments around the country have been taking steps to limit arrests in order to avoid exacerbating the problems in local jails, and some districts have even moved to release at-risk inmates.

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Nadler and Bass said Thursday that they are concerned about reports that federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials are not taking serious steps to protect against the disease.

"We welcome any information showing that the Department of Justice is issuing guidance to U.S. Attorney’s offices and to the BOP and USMS indicating that the Department takes seriously the threat posed by COVID-19 to the health and welfare of inmates in the U.S. government’s care, as well as to the health and welfare of federal correctional employees," they wrote.

On Thursday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said that 65 inmates had been placed in quarantine after a U.S. Marshall tested positive for coronavirus, but added that the city would not consider releasing any at-risk inmates.

The two lawmakers urged the Justice Department to halt all arrests, except in cases where a suspect poses an imminent public safety threat, and to consider releasing inmates who are vulnerable to the virus because of their age or underlying health conditions.

A spokeswoman for the DOJ did not respond when asked for comment.