WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General William Barr ordered the Bureau of Prisons on Friday to increase the use of home confinement and expedite the release of eligible high-risk inmates at three federal prisons where coronavirus cases have skyrocketed.
Officials were told to give highest priority to inmates who are being held at FCC Oakdale, a prison complex in Louisiana where five inmates have died and more than a dozen others remain hospitalized. Also listed were FCI Elkton in Ohio — where three inmates have died — and FCI Danbury in Connecticut, which has reported 20 inmates testing positive for coronavirus.
“We have to move with dispatch in using home confinement, where appropriate, to move vulnerable inmates out of these institutions,” Barr said in a Friday evening memo to the prison system’s director.
As of Friday night, 91 inmates and 50 staff members had tested positive for coronavirus at federal correctional facilities across the U.S., the agency said. Congressional leaders and prison advocates have been pressing the Justice Department for weeks to release at-risk inmates ahead of a potential outbreak, arguing that the public health guidance to stay 6 feet away from other people is nearly impossible behind bars.
Earlier this week, the agency moved into a new phase of its coronavirus response plan: a nationwide lockdown, keeping all federal inmates locked in their cells for 14 days.
In the memo, Barr said the protections the Bureau of Prisons has put in place “have not been perfectly successful at all institutions.” He ordered the agency to conduct a review and identify all inmates who may have coronavirus risk factors, beginning with those at Oakdale, Danbury and Elkton.
Under the order, once the Bureau of Prisons identifies an inmate as someone who could serve a sentence at home, they must immediately prepare to release them to home confinement, Barr wrote. All of those inmates would be subject to a 14-day quarantine, officials said.