As the Coronavirus spreads exponentially across the United States many local and states have been releasing thousands of low-risk inmates who could be at risk, particularly the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions. Additionally, many criminal-justice reform advocates have urged the president to use his power of clemency to commute the sentences of numerous inmates who may be eligible for “compassionate release”.
In the opinion of many experts it has been said that each Governor should name a high-level health coordinator to address the growing problem faced by low-risk state prisoners.
The federal prison system is coming under intense pressure to take similar action, however, as is the case, especially with those who have been sentenced to prison terms and are currently incarcerated already know that the needs of those in federal custody usually face a long drawn out process.
In this situation there is no time, as if it was equivalent to waiting for an appeal hearing to be heard.
In a news conference in mid-March the president said he is contemplating an executive order that would discharge elderly nonviolent offenders from federal prison. Yet now in early April no executive order has been announced as the virus spreads through the federal prison population.
The closest directive to date has been a memo put out by Attorney General William Barr to increase the use of home confinement for some inmates and a request to leaders of the federal prison system to prioritize the use of statutory authorities to release eligible prisoners early to home confinement while recognizing that some susceptible inmates may be more endangered from the deadly virus separate from the crowded prison housings.
The directive came as the Bureau of Prisons reported that ten inmates and eight Bureau of Prisons staff have tested positive for the coronavirus as of March 26, even as prison officials have continued to implement strict measures to stave off the spread of the virus, including a ban on most visitors and a two-week quarantine for all new inmates entering a facility. Advocates and prison officials have warned that the close confines of a correctional facility could quickly become a hotbed for the deadly illness.
“We have some of the best-run prisons in the world and I am confident in our ability to keep inmates in our prisons as safe as possible from the pandemic currently sweeping across the globe,” Barr wrote in the memo.
However, each case is different and how the government will decide who will be given liberty and those who may face this terrible sickness the COVID-19 virus brings or even death will be determined by those who may not weigh your individual case on its merits.
This is the reason an experienced federal criminal attorney should be hired if you believe that you may apply but are worried that you may not.
Michael B. Cohen, Esq. is a Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney whose expertise in federal cases is extensive. As a former Assistant State Attorney for Broward County, and an Assistant United States Attorney for the government, Mr. Cohen clients receive the best sought possible outcome refuting any charges alleged by the State of Florida or the Federal Government. Working for the prosecution prior to founding his criminal defense practice in the private sector has given him a superior advantage that will result beneficially for those who seek his help. If you are currently incarcerated for a non-violent crime, or elderly, and believe that you may apply for compassionate release, Mr. Cohen can be your guide through his knowledge of federal law to increase the chances of your individual possibility of release.
Shortly after the president’s news conference was televised David Patton, the executive director of the Federal Defenders of New York told reporters that soon after the first federal inmate tested positive for COVID-19 at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center, “This is a real disaster waiting to happen… these are places that are particularly susceptible to contagion.”
The Bureau of Prisons has reported that the first federal prisoner incarcerated at Oakdale Louisiana federal prison has died on March 29, 2020 due to contracting COVID-19. He had been serving his sentence for a drug conviction at the low-security facility in Oakdale and was transferred to a local hospital on March 19 after complaining of a persistent cough. He was placed on a ventilator the following day when he tested positive for the virus as his condition deteriorated rapidly, according to a Bureau of Prisons spokesperson. The inmate died eight days later. At the time of his death five other inmates had already tested positive for the disease at Oakdale.
Since then, three of the four other inmates who tested positive for the virus have passed away from the infection.
The greatest risk to the prison population are the vast amount of people serving their sentences at these facilities. Incarceration brings health risks all the time but now the risk has become greater and the risk of death due to this virus has incredibly grown.
People who are detained as well as the staff of each prison are part of the same community which are quickly becoming reservoirs of infection.
Locked up in an everyday dirty, unsanitary setting with unacceptable low standards of healthcare will easily drive the entire epidemic up just as we’re trying to flatten the curve of this pandemic. Prisoners and staff, some working multiple shifts, expose those inside as well as outside these federal prisons and detention centers who are dependent on day to day survival with great danger and peril all around them.
For example, take the Federal Correctional Institution in Miami which is a low-security United States federal prison for male inmates in Florida. operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice and its many low-level offenders that may be on the bubble of an inmate being considered for release through this method where overcrowding as a whole is undermining public safety.
A qualified, knowledgeable attorney whose practice focuses on federal law can make all the difference for early release as opposed to just hoping you are one of the lucky who applies for this option under consideration by the powers that be.
A perfect example of a case just decided earlier this week was determined in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) in the case of the United States v. Wilson Perez.
Wilson Perez was serving a sentence at the Metropolitan Detention Center after pleading guilty to kidnapping and conspiracy in October 2019.
He was sentenced to three years in federal prison followed by two years of supervised release. He has a well-acknowledged record of medical complications which stemmed from wounds endured during his time since his sentence began. He was the victim of two savage beatings, resulting in a broken jaw and crushed bones around his eye socket area. These two attacks sent him to the hospital and required reconstructive surgeries to his face. The second surgery requiring metal implants to repair the damage. To this date he continues to suffer from persistent vision problems and is in chronic pain although he is receiving no pain medication. His request for discharge in advance of his substantiated release date is due to his belief that he is at a higher than normal risk of contracting serious complications from, COVID-19 if he remains at the Metropolitan Detention Center. He is housed with another cellmate in a cell compartment that is scarcely large enough for a single inhabitant where he points out that he is breathing recirculated air as well as not being able to exercise suitable hygiene.
Although the Federal Bureau of Prisons acknowledged that COVID-19 is extant within the Metropolitan Detention Center, the Government questioned the Court’s authority to act on Mr. Perez’s application, contending that he has not exhausted all administrative remedies which include requiring that a prisoner seeking compassionate release present his claim to the Bureau of Prisons and then either organizationally appeal a hostile result if the Bureau of Prisons disagrees that his sentence should be revised or wait for thirty days to pass.
Since March 26, 2020 when Perez submitted his application to the Bureau of Prisons for sentence modification the Bureau had not acted on his request. However on April 1, 2020 the Court held that Mr. Perez’s exhaustion of the administrative procedure can be waived due to the exceptional threat presented in his unique circumstance. The COVID-19 pandemic was referenced as the unique decision. It was determined that in this particular case even a few weeks delay for his release from incarceration brought the risk of disastrous health concerns for the applicant. The Court agreed that this threat also represented an extraordinary and persuasive reason to reduce the prisoner’s sentence to time served.
In essence, Mr. Perez’s motion was granted.
If someone you care about is incarcerated in federal prison as the coronavirus spreads exponentially, I urge you to contact my office at 954-928-0059 as soon as you can. I will personally look into the possibility of my assistance with compassionate release, and other methods of early discharge from a federal facility.
Keep in mind that legal visits have been suspended for a thirty-day period by emergency order as of March 15, 2020. On April 15, 2020 the suspension will be re-evaluated. Case-by-case consent at the local level and confidential legal calls will be permitted in order to ensure access to my counsel. If approved for an in-person visit by the institution the inmate is located in, I will need to undergo screening using the same methods as the current prison staff does before I can meet with an inmate.
Access to legal counsel remains an overriding concern by the federal prison system and will be accommodated to the maximum extent feasible. Although, as mentioned above, legal visits have been generally suspended for thirty days but case-by-case accommodations will be made in each individual situation. If approved for an in-person visit, I will need to undergo an advanced health screening including a temperature check.
Letter to Attorney General William Barr (FAMM)
Letter to Attorney General William Barr (Federal Public & Community Defenders Legislative Committee)
Locked up: No masks, sanitizer as virus spreads behind bars (Associated Press)
Spread of coronavirus accelerates in U.S. jails and prisons (Reuters)
Responses to the COVID-19 pandemic (Prison Policy Initiative)
Federal Bureau of Prisons (COVID-19 Mitigation)
Federal Bureau of Prisons (Monitoring the Spread of COVID-19)