ACLU calls on Justice Department, Bureau of Prisons to release inmates vulnerable to coronavirus
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) requested the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) release prisoners who are vulnerable to coronavirus to prevent an outbreak in federal prisons.
The letter, addressed to Attorney General William Barr and BOP Director Michael Carvajal called on the agencies to “take immediate action to safeguard” the prisoners, specifically those who are elderly or have chronic health conditions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has designated these demographics as most susceptible to serious illness or death.
The union requested the officials “increase the use of compassionate release” to limit overcrowding that could intensify an outbreak in the bureau’s 122 facilities that hold almost a quarter of a million inmates.
“The same social distancing principles guiding public and private sector responses should guide the BOP’s response and ensure that its facilities do not unnecessarily bring people into confined spaces that may lead to greater exposure to coronavirus,” the letter reads. “Deliberate action must be taken to meet the responsibility to ensure the health of those incarcerated in the federal system.”
BREAKING: We’re calling for the immediate release of individuals in prisons and jails who, according to the CDC, face heightened risk of severe illness or death due to COVID-19. pic.twitter.com/KFjn1BMQCU
— ACLU (@ACLU) March 18, 2020
The ACLU and 14 of its affiliates also sent a letter to state and local officials across the country, appealing governors to commute sentences that will end in the next two years or less and those being held on a technical supervision violation.
The letter to local officials also called on police to stop arresting people for minor offenses and prosecutors to avoid cash bail requests. The letter also asks that prosecutors implement a review-and-release protocol for inmates who sought bail in the past 30 days.
The ACLU requested judges to allow those with open criminal cases and an upcoming hearing to voluntarily waive the hearing or attend digitally, sheriffs to keep facilities “empty, safe, and clean” and probation and parole agents to speed up and extend release opportunities.
“Public health experts recognize that there is a heightened risk of infection for people who are involved in the criminal legal system, and that downsizing the footprint of the criminal legal system should be a part of the COVID-19 public health response,” Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU’s Justice Division, said.
The BOP and DOJ declined to comment.
COVID-19 is rapidly spreading throughout the U.S. and has infected more than 7,300 people, killing 115, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Cases in jails and prisons have already been confirmed across the country, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
Updated at 2:41 p.m.