COVID Compassionate Release: The Prisoner Dilemma

With the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government and many states are taking unprecedented action, and are reducing the sentences of many defendants, a concept of compassionate release. However, Florida is not one of those states.

Criminal justice reform has been a hotly debated topic for some time. People debated the overcriminalization of our population and questioned the effect mass incarceration has on our society both morally and financially. However, now with the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic the federal government and many states are taking unprecedented action, and are reducing the sentences of many defendants, a concept of compassionate release. Florida is not one of those states. The prisoners in Florida’s Department of Corrections with underlying medical conditions, or older adults have no vehicle to request a modification of their sentence.

The prisons or jails are an ideal breeding ground for COVID-19. The inmates are in close quarters. New people are constantly being introduced to the environment (newly arrested or sentenced) who could already have the virus, but are either asymptomatic or not showing symptoms yet. Additionally, guards, law enforcement officers, and other administrators are coming and going through the facility. A perfect example is Cook County Jail in Chicago. As of April, there are a total of 306 detainees who have tested positive, and a third inmate has recently died of the disease. The spread of COVID-19 has already begun in some of Florida’s correctional facilities. In fact, as of April 13, 2020 there are already 34 inmates and 6 employees at Blackwater Correctional Facility that have tested positive.

In the Federal system, an inmate can request that the warden of their correctional facility petition the court for a modification of their sentence. This request for a modification can be for their existing health problems - think terminal illness - or if a family member needs assistance and you are the only one able to provide it. The federal system also has a provision in the statute that allows for a modification for “extraordinary circumstances” and Attorney General William Barr has requested the Bureau of Prisons to find inmates who are the most susceptible to have severe illness and work on having them released from Federal Custody. Unlike the Federal government, there is no way for a prisoner to request a modification of their sentence.

The Federal system has even furloughed some inmates and allowed them temporary freedom from incarceration while the coronavirus pandemic is fought. Michael Avenatti, the attorney who famously represented Stormy Daniels, is being released on home confinement for 90 days. His attorney petitioned the Federal Judge to release him due to a recent pneumonia infection.

Prisons were not built to accommodate self-isolation. They are built to house and confine massive amounts of people for the purpose of punishment. The medical units at correctional facilities are not designed to treat people with ventilators and failing organs. Much is unknown about COVID-19, but the one thing we do know is that older people and those with certain pre-existing conditions are hospitalized at a much higher rate, and their mortality rate is significantly higher. A prison sentence is not supposed to be a death sentence.

People incarcerated in our prisons are in the care, custody, and control of our government. They are paying for their crime and serving their time. This does not mean that they should be discarded. Attorney General Barr said, “The mission of BOP (Bureau of Prisons) is to administer the lawful punishments that our justice system imposes. Executing that mission imposes on us a profound obligation to protect the health and safety of all inmates.”

Contact Info:
Name: Andrew Moses
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Organization: Moses & Rooth Attorneys at Law

Release ID: 88954325