Prisons across the country have begun releasing non-violent offenders due to concerns surrounding the risk factors of COVID-19. In an effort to protect overall public safety, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has examined the possible dangers incarcerated individuals might face. Measures such as social distancing, are nearly impossible to enforce in prison systems. This issue paired with the virus’ ability to spread quickly among people poses a life-threatening situation to many.
Reviews Started as Early as March
As early as March this year, the BOP began to review the cases of non-violent offenders, to consider home confinement as an alternative to incarceration. Across the country, thousands of incarcerated persons who have been deemed to be at high risk for COVID-19 have been placed in home confinement and released from prison. As of April 15, the population of jails in Washington, D.C. has decreased 21.8%. Likewise, Maryland government officials have continuously been urging the state to identify incarcerated persons at risk and consider their release from prison.
Health Concern’s Trump High Profile Rulings
One high profile case that has been highlighted in the news media is that of President Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who has recently been released from federal prison. Cohen has been imprisoned in NY for the past year and the concerns for his safety due to COVID has led to this decision. As a result, the completion of his sentence, set to end in November 2021, will take place from the comfort of his own home.
Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign Chairman, has also been released to home confinement. Manafort’s criminal defense attorneys requested his release due to health concerns surrounding COVID-19. Manafort was convicted of charges involving bank and tax fraud and was sentenced to 7.5 years in March 2019. Previously serving his term in PA, Manafort, 71, has various health concerns that compromise his safety such as high blood pressure and respiratory conditions that make him vulnerable to COVID-19. At the time of his release, there were no reported cases of COVID-19 at the prison Manafort occupied, but his attorneys argued that to wait for a reported case would put Manafort in a potentially life-threatening position.
In February this year, Roger Stone had been sentenced to 40 months in prison and 2 years of supervised release. Stone had been found guilty of obstructing investigations related to Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election. Stone’s attorney was informed that the date his sentence was set to begin, originally at the end of April, was pushed back 30 days by the BOP. As of April, Stone’s attorneys argued for a new trial due to juror bias which was ultimately dismissed. Stone has publicly spoken out about his frustration with being incarcerated during the pandemic, which could ultimately be life-threatening as Stone is 67 with various health issues.
Unfortunately, the presence of COVID-19 has begun to spread throughout prisons nationally at high rates. There have been at least 29,251 reported cases of COVID-19 among incarcerated persons as of the week of May 20, 2020. Releasing individuals who do not pose a great threat to the public into home confinement is seemingly the right move in order to protect the most lives.