Attorney General William P. Barr on Friday evening ordered federal prison officials to speed up the process of releasing vulnerable inmates at three prisons fighting the coronavirus outbreaks.
Mr. Barr urged releasing to home confinement certain inmates at prison complexes in Danbury Connecticut; Oakdale, Louisiana; and Elkton, Ohio.
The attorney general said the danger posed to elderly inmates and those with pre-existing health conditions is too great to keep them at prisons battling the spread of the deadly virus.
“We have to move with dispatch in using home confinement, where appropriate, to move vulnerable inmates out of these institutions,” Mr. Barr wrote in a memo.
Mr. Barr also exercised new powers granted to him by Congress under the stimulus package known as the CARES Act to expand the number of inmates eligible for release.
Federal law previously barred releasing inmates to home confinement until they had completed 90 percent of sentences. However, the CARES Act, which was signed into law by President Trump last week, allows for earlier releases by the attorney general in an emergency.
“And now that I have exercised my authority under the CARES Act, your review should include all at-risk inmates — not only those who were previously eligible for transfer,” he wrote.
Mr. Barr urged prison officials to move immediately.
“Given the speed with which this disease has spread through the general public, it is clear that time is of the essence,” he wrote. “Please implement this memorandum as quickly as possible and keep me closely apprised of your progress.”
As of Friday evening, seven federal prisoners have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, including five at Oakdale and two in Elkton.
However, the number of federal inmates and staff infected with the coronavirus continues to rise. As of Friday, 91 federal inmates and 75 staffers have been infected, according to the Bureau of Prisons. That’s up from 75 inmates and 39 staff members one day earlier.
Mr. Barr last week announced that he had ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons to release more prisoners who no longer pose a threat.
A total of 522 inmates were transferred to home confinement since Mr. Barr’s directive, the Bureau of Prisons said.