Senators urge DOJ and BOP to use their authority under the First Step Act amid the coronavirus pandemic

WASHINGTON DC (March 24, 2020) — Amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, former Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles "Chuck" Grassley (R-IA) and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), the lead authors of the bipartisan First Step Act (FSA), led 12 of their colleagues in a bipartisan letter pressing the Trump Administration to take necessary steps to protect the health and well-being of federal prison staff and inmates in Federal custody, particularly by using their authority under the FSA.

In a letter to Attorney General William Barr and Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Michael Carvajal, the senators pressed for the Justice Department and BOP, to release or transfer to home confinement the most vulnerable inmates as permitted under the FSA. The senators called on BOP and DOJ to review and expedite current cases where the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program would allow for an early transfer — where appropriate — of terminally-ill and eligible elderly inmates to home confinement.

The senators also urged DOJ and BOP to immediately issue guidance requiring that the “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances for compassionate release be interpreted more broadly and clarify that such circumstances include vulnerability to COVID-19. The senators urged DOJ and BOP to use its authority under the FSA to quickly transfer to home confinement eligible nonviolent offenders who are at high risk for suffering complications from COVID-19.

“[I]t is important that consistent with the law and taking into account public safety and health concerns, that the most vulnerable inmates are released or transferred to home confinement, if possible,” the senators wrote.

Along with Durbin and Grassley, today’s letter was also signed by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Mike Lee (R-UT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

Full text of the letter is available here.

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