Harris pushes for release of low-risk federal prisoners amid coronavirus outbreak

Harris pushes for release of low-risk federal prisoners amid coronavirus outbreak
© Greg Nash

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisOn The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits Biden scolds Republicans for not wearing masks during Capitol attack Biden and the new Congress must protect Americans from utility shutoffs MORE (D-Calif.) on Thursday asked the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to release low-risk prisoners amid reports that California jail inmates have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

In a Thursday letter to BOP Director Michael Carvajal, Harris noted a March 13 Mercury News report that two Santa Clara inmates had been quarantined, as had others who were in contact with them.

“On March 19, the chief physician of Rikers Island called on state and local judges and prosecutors to reduce the incarcerated population wherever possible, explaining that ‘the luxury that allows you to protect yourselves, carries with it an obligation to those you detain.’ We need the same show of leadership at BOP,” Harris wrote.


“At this time, BOP — in coordination with the U.S. Department of Justice — can and should request the release of low-risk individuals who are in pre-trial detention because of money bail,” she added. “BOP and the Justice Department also have a responsibility to direct federal, state, and local courts to consider the risk of coronavirus in any pre-trial release decision-making.”

In the letter, Harris asked for information on the current ratio of health care providers to both inmates at BOP facilities and to federal inmates at private prisons, as well as how many testing kits and ventilators BOP has at each facility and the bureau’s contingency plans for a potential outbreak.

She further asked whether Carvajal or Attorney General William BarrBill BarrActing attorney general condemns Capitol riots, warns 'no tolerance' for violence at Biden inauguration Barr, White House counsel told Trump not to self-pardon: report Trump condemns riots, says he will focus on transition in taped remarks MORE have made any efforts to expedite compassionate release for elderly or pregnant inmates, as well as elderly home confinement programs since the outbreak began.

Potential outbreaks within prisons are an increasing concern due to the risk of the virus’s spread in close quarters. Earlier this week, a Wisconsin prison doctor tested positive for the virus and 18 inmates were quarantined, while a staffer at New York’s Sing Sing prison was also diagnosed with the virus.