Federal Emergency Rules Regarding COVID-19 (Federal Inmate Release)

Posted by Raza Lawrence on April 20, 2020

Federal Inmate Release

April 20, 2020


Two inmates at San Pedro’s Terminal Island federal prison have died of coronavirus, with 33 positive cases at the prison as of yesterday. Nationwide, 22 federal inmates have died od coronavirus. All federal inmates displaying signs of COVID-19 are being placed in isolation.

In memos, Attorney General William Barr has issued the following directives to the Bureau of Prisons and US Attorneys regarding federal inmates:

March 26, 2019 Memo prioritizing home confinement as appropriate in response to the COVID-19 epidemic.


The March 26 memo discusses several discretionary factors to consider, including:

  • the inmate’s age and whether the inmate has pre-existing health conditions increasing the risk of COVID-19;

  • the security level of the institution, with preference given to inmates at low and minimum security facilities;

  • the inmate’s conduct in prison, with inmates who committed violent or gang-related conduct or incurred a BOP violation in the last year not receiving priority;

  • whether the inmate has a verifiable re-entry plan that will prevent recidivism and promote public safety;

  • the inmate’s crime of conviction, and danger posed to the community, with sex offenses rendering inmate ineligible for home detention.

April 3, 2020 Memo increasing use of home confinement at institutions most affected by COVID-19.
"As you know, we are experiencing significant levels of infection at several of our facilities, including FCI Oakdale, FCI Danbury, and FCI Elkton. We have to move with dispatch in using home confinement, where appropriate, to move vulnerable inmates out of these institutions. I would like you to give priority to these institutions, and others similarly affected, as you continue to process the remaining inmates who are eligible for home confinement under pre-CARES Act standards. In addition, the CARES Act now authorizes me to expand the cohort of inmates who can be considered for home release upon my finding that emergency conditions are materially affecting the functioning of the Bureau of Prisons. I hereby make that finding and direct that, as detailed below, you give priority in implementing these new standards to the most vulnerable inmates at the most affected facilities, consistent with the guidance below."


Attorney General Barr’s April 3 memorandum permits transfer of any and all "vulnerable" federal inmates to home confinement, to be selected by BOP wardens on an institution by institution basis.  The memo requires consideration of public safety risk, but eliminates age- and offense-related restrictions, and limitations on duration, that were previously included in the home confinement program.  The memo allows but does not require electronic monitoring for home confinement.

There are templates for motions to challenge the continued pretrial confinement of both at-risk clients, and non-“high risk” clients.  One can argue that continued detention violates the 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendments and violates international human rights law prohibiting cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.




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This blog is not intended as legal advice and should not be taken as such. The possession, use, and/or sale of marijuana is illegal under federal law.