Published on: Monday, May 11, 2020
Today, May 11, 2020, the Federal Public & Community Defenders sent a letter, available here to Congress explaining why the following measures would provide badly needed relief to individuals in federal custody:
  • A presumption of release under the Bail Reform Act, absent clear and convincing evidence that a person poses a specific threat of violence
  • Broader tools to enable courts to release or transfer individuals already sentenced; and
  • Ongoing, universal testing for all incarcerated individuals and staff.

We are in the midst of a great humanitarian crisis as individuals in BOP custody are being infected at a rate more than 6.5 times higher than in the United States. In response to reports from DOJ and BOP that appear to misstate their release policies and implementation of CDC guidance, the letter reports that:

  • DOJ and BOP are obstructing responsible release under the Bail Reform Act. In one jurisdiction, the government has agreed to release in only 8 out of 125 cases since March 16, 2020, undermining efforts to reduce populations in jails filled with the presumptively innocent;
  • The transfer of vulnerable individuals to home confinement is progressing far too slowly. Since the beginning of April, BOP has transferred less than 1.5 percent of the over 174,000 individuals in its custody
  • Many BOP facilities are refusing to even accept or review compassionate release requests, and prosecutors have adopted a nearly default opposition to release. For instance, at FCI Elkton--one prison hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis--out of the 837 most vulnerable individuals, BOP claimed that only 1 met the criteria for compassionate release; and
  • DOJ's failure to lower prison populations to achieve social distancing have been compounded by insufficient testing and a failure to supply adequate PPE.

The Training Division is providing COVID-19 resources and materials, updated multiple times daily, to assist defenders and CJA panel attorneys with understanding and litigating issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.