Attorney General Bill Barr has instructed federal prosecutors to take the coronavirus pandemic into account when setting bail for criminal defendants, The Hill reported Monday.
“You should now consider the medical risks associated with individuals being remanded into federal custody during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Barr wrote in a memo dated Monday, according to The Hill. “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.”
Still, Barr said such decisions should be made carefully.
“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,” the attorney general clarified, according to The Hill. “COVID-19 presents real risks, but so does allowing violent gang members and child predators to roam free.”
A recent report from the Federal Bureau of Prisons revealed that 194 individuals in federal custody had tested positive for the coronavirus, with major outbreaks occurring at correctional facilities in Louisiana, Ohio, and Connecticut.
State and county authorities have begun releasing prisoners in response to the pandemic, hoping to curb the spread of the disease. However, reports indicate that some who were released have gone on to commit serious crimes.
Joshua Haskell was released from a halfway house in Utah last month amid concerns over COVID-19, according to U.S. News & World Report. Police say that he later broke into a woman’s home south of Salt Lake City while armed with a knife.
According to reports, Haskell, who was described as having an extensive criminal record, was tying the woman up when her son called 911. “When [Haskell allegedly] tried to hide in the bed with her,” U.S. News & World Report said, “she ran downstairs ‘panicked’ and ‘horrified’ but physically unharmed.”
“This doesn’t make any sense”
Meanwhile, the New York Post has reported that at least eight convicted sex offenders are among those who have been removed from a local jail in upstate New York. They are being housed at a Holiday Inn Express in Greece, New York, the Post noted.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Greece police chief Patrick Phelan said of the development, according to the Post. “If you could present an argument to me that makes sense, I’m willing to listen. But this doesn’t make any sense.”
He went on: “So you have a violent criminal who’s done time in state prison who’s been given the chance of parole, and not followed the conditions of their parole. That’s who you’re talking about right now.”
During a press briefing on April 2, President Donald Trump himself criticized the practice of releasing criminals due to the pandemic. “We don’t like it,” he said, according to the Boston Herald. “The people don’t like it, and we’re looking to see if I have the right to stop it in some cases.”