House Dems urge Barr to release prisoners to reduce the spread of coronavirus

Never content to let a crisis go to waste, some Democrats have seized upon the new coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to pursue a separate ideological goal of substantially reducing the prison population in the U.S. by framing incarceration as a public health risk.

To that end, two top House Democrats recently sent a letter to Attorney General Bill Barr that strongly urged him to “release as many prisoners as possible” from federal facilities in order to protect them from contracting COVID-19 while behind bars, Breitbart reported.

Dems urge prisoner release

The letter to Barr was sent by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Subcommittee on Crime Chairwoman Karen Bass (D-CA), and it began by noting an outbreak of coronavirus in a Louisiana federal prison that had already killed one elderly inmate and placed a guard in intensive care, while another 30 inmates and staff had tested positive for the disease.

Given that, and in line with Barr’s authority over the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), they wrote, “We call on you, in the most urgent of terms, to do the right thing and exercise this authority and immediately move to release medically-compromised, elderly, and pregnant prisoners in the custody of the BOP.”

“In addition, we urge that you use every tool at your disposal to release as many prisoners as possible, to protect them from COVID-19,” they continued. “Along those lines, and as you move forward with planning for and executing the release of what we hope will be an appropriately sizable number of BOP prisoners, we urge you to consider the issues raised below.”

Those “issues” included their request to release as many inmates as possible to home confinement, relaxing the criteria used to determine eligibility for home confinement, providing home confinement monitoring free of charge, clearing out “halfway home” residential reentry centers, suspending all internal transfers of inmates between prisons, and gathering and reporting all relevant demographic data related to releases in a report for Congress.

Barr’s reponse

The letter from Nadler and Bass also cited an internal memo sent from Barr to BOP Director Michael Carvajal which instructed him to give more consideration to the release to home confinement of inmates who were elderly or had underlying medical conditions in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. However, the committee chairs made it clear that Barr’s directive to Carvajal did not go far enough in their estimation.

CBS News reported that Barr told Carvajal that “many inmates will be safer in BOP facilities where the population is controlled and there is ready access to doctors and medical care. But for some inmates, home confinement might be more effective in protecting their health.”

In a press conference on Thursday, Barr told reporters, “There are particular concerns in this institutional setting. We want to make sure that our institutions don’t become Petri dishes and it spreads rapidly through a particular institution. We have the protocols that are designed to stop that and we are using all the tools we have to protect the inmates.”

According to CBS, there are approximately 146,000 inmates in 122 federal facilities nationwide, plus another 21,000 federal inmates held in privately-run prisons. Of that population, roughly 10,000 of the inmates are older than 60 years of age, and about one-third of those elderly inmates have pre-existing medical issues.

Exploiting a national crisis

To be clear, there is a valid concern regarding the potential for coronavirus outbreaks in prison, which has already been seen in some locations, and releasing elderly or sickly inmates that are low-risk and non-violent is something worth considering amid the current crisis.

However, like most anything they do these days, Democrats have sought to fully exploit this opportunity to go far beyond what is reasonable in an effort to obtain wholly unrelated social justice goals like emptying prisons of nearly all inmates — even those with violent histories who present a risk to the public — and that can’t be countenanced, pandemic or not.

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