A prison in Fort Worth, Texas, has seen coronavirus cases increase by 275 percent over the course of a week. New models have shown that failure to reduce prison populations could result in 100,000 more deaths. Despite these facts, the Department of Justice has now limited the number of inmates eligible for early release.
ABC News reports that a court filing in the Southern District of New York has provided new guidelines regarding early prison release. “[Bureau of Prisons] is at this time prioritizing for consideration those inmates who either (1) have served 50% or more of their sentences, or (2) have 18 months or less remaining in their sentences and have served 25% or more of their sentences,” the filing said. Memorandums issued by Attorney General William Barr on March 26 and April 3 only placed restrictions on violent and sex offenders with no mention of time served. As of Wednesday, 1,440 inmates are currently in home confinement under the previous guidelines.
From ABC News:
One Bureau of Prisons source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told ABC News that riots could happen due to the confusion going on inside the agency.
In a memo obtained by ABC News dated April 22, the bureau said that moving forward it would prioritize inmates for home confinement who have served at least 50% of their sentences, but will also use discretion in how it considers individual cases.
The memo describes in detail why the bureau will use a case-by-case determination to decide who gets released due to COVID-19.
The confusion for lawyers, inmates and other BOP officials comes as judges around the country are exhibiting increasing frustration with how the government has handled COVID-19 outbreaks in certain prisons.
Some of that confusion has come in the form of testing. Certain prisons, such as Federal Correctional Institution Elkton in Ohio, are reporting a lack of tests. A lawsuit filed by inmates at Elkton reveals that the prison has only received 80 tests from the BOP. The prison houses over 1,900 inmates. Conversely, Marion Correctional Institution, also in Ohio, was able to test its entire prison population, revealing that over 2,000 inmates have contracted the disease. Marion is currently the number one coronavirus hot spot in the country by infections per capita, with Ohio’s Pickaway Correctional Institution ranking second.
Inconsistent testing protocols combined with guidelines that are only getting stricter paints an increasingly grim future for those currently incarcerated.