US Attorney General William Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to use home confinement for inmates currently held in jail or prison when appropriate in response to an increase of COVID-19 cases among prison populations on Thursday. Any inmates released on home confinement will be under 14-day quarantine.
The move is intended to slow the spread of the virus among prison populations. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union have been raising concerns about the vulnerability of prison populations since early March.
Exactly who could be found eligible for release on home confinement will be significantly limited based on the needs of the inmate and the crimes they committed. According to Barr, inmates convicted of violent crimes of sex offenses will not be eligible for home confinement. COVID-19 outbreaks in Italian prisons led to prison riots and mass escapes in some instances. Barr is likely using home confinement as not solely a means of preventing outbreaks in prisons, but also to lower the risk of riots and escapes. Several inmates have already escaped after learning an inmate in their area tested positive for the virus.
Some states have instituted similar measures for state prisons. New Jersey’s Supreme Court ordered the release of some county jail inmates on Tuesday, after a petition filed by New Jersey’s public defender’s office. The office argued that the continued detainment of prisons posed a threat to public health. The order only applies to those serving sentences of under a year, and allows prosecutors to file objections to the release of specific inmates. If an objection is filed, a judge will hold a hearing. The order requires released inmates to abide by any and all restrictions placed upon them.
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