- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Justice Department will allow older, nonviolent federal inmates to be placed in home confinement to avoid a larger outbreak of the coronavirus inside federal prisons, Attorney General William P. Barr said Thursday.

“We want to be sure our institutions don’t become petri dishes and it doesn’t spread rapidly through an institution — but we have protocols that are designed to stop that and we are using all the tools we have,” Mr. Barr told reporters at a press conference.

Mr. Barr said there were “concerns” for the plight of more than 10,000 inmates aged 60 or older confined in the nation’s 122 federal prisons. One prisoner in Louisiana, he said, is in critical condition with a coronavirus infection.

So far, there have been few coronavirus cases reported in federal prisons. As of Thursday, there are six inmates and four staffers publicly known to be infected at federal prisons across the country.

The attorney general’s comments come as politicians and civil rights groups on both sides of the political spectrum urge the Justice Department to release elderly and non-violent federal inmates.

Reform Alliance, a group advocating for smaller prison populations, praised the decision.

“Protecting vulnerable incarcerated people from exposure to COVID-19 is not just good for their safety, but also for others behind bars and correctional staff who are at risk of spreading the disease back into their communities,” the group said in a statement. “We applaud the Attorney General for working to balance public safety with the need to keep our prisons safe from this pandemic, and we urge federal prison authorities to implement AG Barr’s directive in good faith.”

On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators demanded Mr. Barr move low-level offenders out of federal prisons.

“Conditions of confinement do not afford individuals the opportunity to take proactive steps to protect themselves, and prisons often create the ideal environment for the transmission of contagious disease,” the senators wrote in a letter to Mr. Barr and Michael Carvajal, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Some states and municipalities have already released nonviolent and elderly prisoners amid the pandemic. Los Angeles County released more than 600 inmates early, Cleveland let go over 200, and other localities are mulling similar measures.

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