COVID-19 Compassionate Release

In Blogby RSF

On behalf of Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry posted in Compassionate Release on Sunday, May 3, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has created worry in every facet of society, but many criminal defense lawyers – including those at Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry – are especially worried for high-risk individuals who are incarcerated, with their lives in the hands of federal correctional facilities. Federal prison could prove to be the perfect storm of close contact, unsanitary conditions, and a general lack of resources to create the ideal environment for transmission of the contagious disease. Though we do yet have all the answers, the attorneys at Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry are dedicated to making sure all high-risk members of society are safe, including those incarcerated. 

A provision in the First Step Act, which President Donald Trump signed in 2018, could allow judges to release vulnerable federal inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Under this provision, inmates with serious illnesses can petition their warden for this compassionate release. If the Bureau of Prisons doesn’t reply within 30 days, the inmates can file their motion in federal court. Once it is filed in federal court, judges can decide whether or not to release the inmates for their health concerns.

On March 26th a bill was proposed that more directly addressed compassionate release in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, calling for the release of : (1) individuals who do not pose a risk of serious and imminent injury to any person; (2) individuals 50 years and older; (3) individuals with serious chronic medical conditions; (4) pregnant women; (5) immunocompromised individuals; and (6) individuals with conditions or disabilities otherwise making them vulnerable to COVID-19. However, this bill has not been passed into law yet. Under the Cares Act, Attorney General William Barr does have the authority to, across the board, transfer high risk inmates to home confinement under circumstances such as this. Barr has hinted at, but has not explicitly used this authority yet.

In press releases, President Trump has stated that his administration is “looking at releasing totally nonviolent prisoners,” but no direct action as to that comment has been announced either. An order like this from the executive branch would help to incentivize judges to rule in favor of inmates in releasing at-risk and nonviolent offenders, but right now, it is entirely up to the judges. This means, whichever judge a motion ends up in front of can determine that inmate’s fate. Many judges have already granted compassionate release (often in the form of house-arrests) in order to lower the prison population and give some inmates a fair chance to socially distance themselves. However, many prosecuting attorneys are giving judges a considerable amount of pushback on these motions, which has led to many criminal justice organizations to call for broad policy decisions to be enforced at the national level. 

As you can see, right now there is no clear-cut answer as to which incarcerated individuals may be eligible for release, so it is very important that you have an attorney that is on top of it. The attorneys at Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry will work diligently to make sure any of our clients who are at-risk are kept informed and kept safe. If you or an incarcerated loved one might be at risk, call us today.

Works Cited

COVID-19 and the Compassionate Release of the Elderly, Infirm or High Risk. www.americanbar.org, https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/events_cle/program-archive/covid-compassionate-release/. Accessed 14 Apr. 2020.

“As COVID-19 Spreads, Calls Grow To Protect Inmates In Federal Prisons.” NPR.Org. www.npr.org, https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/03/24/820618140/as-covid-19-spreads-calls-grow-to-protect-inmates-in-federal-prisons. Accessed 14 Apr. 2020.

March 26, Jacqueline Thomsen |., and 2020 at 04:09 PM. “Concerned About COVID-19, Advocates Push Policy That Lets Judges Release Ill Federal Prisoners.” National Law Journal. www.law.com, https://www.law.com/nationallawjournal/2020/03/26/concerned-about-covid-19-advocates-push-policy-that-lets-judges-release-ill-federal-prisoners/. Accessed 14 Apr. 2020.