In the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic, some attention has been cast on the legitimate concern regarding outbreaks of COVID-19 among prison populations. The left, always ready to take advantage of a crisis, has used the opportunity to argue for the mass release of inmates, which is in line with the broader progressive agenda of reducing the prison population overall.
Attorney General Bill Barr has recognized the legitimate concerns about coronavirus and prison populations but has taken a more thoughtful approach to deal with it, most recently by telling federal prosecutors to carefully consider the risk of COVID-19 to incarcerated individuals when evaluating requests for bail, The Hill reported.
Barr urges COVID-19 caution
Barr’s directive for federal prosecutors to weigh the risks of detaining defendants in jail or prison pending bail — not just for the defendant, but other prisoners and prison staff as well — came in a memo issued on Monday, according to Politico.
“You should now consider the medical risks associated with individuals being remanded into federal custody during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Barr wrote. “Even with the extensive precautions we are currently taking, each time a new person is added to a jail, it presents at least some risk to the personnel who operate that facility and to the people incarcerated therein.”
However, even as Barr suggested not seeking detention pending bail for some defendants, he made it abundantly clear that such a consideration would only apply to non-violent individuals who wouldn’t pose a threat to the general public if allowed to remain out of prison while awaiting trial.
“Controlling weight should be given to public safety, and under no circumstances should those who present a risk to any person or the community be released,” Barr wrote. “COVID-19 presents real risks, but so does allowing violent gang members and child predators to roam free.”
Home confinement, early release considered
Politico noted that Barr’s memo came just one day after he declared a state of emergency in the federal prison system, which allows prison officials the flexibility to shift some non-violent or particularly at-risk inmates from prison to monitored home confinement sooner than they otherwise would have been eligible for release.
The move also comes as the Justice Department and Bureau of Prisons face a slew of lawsuits from various activist and civil liberties groups that are demanding the release of even more prisoners from federal facilities.
Barr issued a similar memo last week instructing prison officials to consider early release or home confinement for certain prisoners — again, with an emphasis on those who are deemed non-violent and of minimal risk for future offense — in order to reduce the possibility of coronavirus infections spreading among inmate populations and the guards who watch over them.
Finding the right balance
According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, as of Monday, there were 195 federal inmates and 63 staff members nationwide who have tested positive for COVID-19 spread across 30 prisons and 6 residential re-entry centers, with eight inmates dying from the disease thus far.
As for Barr’s earlier directive regarding home confinement for certain at-risk inmates, BOP noted that 566 such inmates have been granted that limited release from a federal facility to date.
This is undoubtedly a touchy subject that must be dealt with in a thoughtful and considerate manner that weighs the risks presented to both prison populations and staffers as well as the general population. While few, if any, options look particularly good, Barr appears to be doing his best to find the right balance in protecting as many people as possible within the limits of that equation.