by Meg Blair, PhD, MSN, RN, CEN
On March 26, 2020, Attorney General William Barr directed the BOP to begin assessing how to release prison inmates at risk for COVID-19 early to home confinement. He recognized the dangers of prisons becoming “petri dishes” for contagion. There is a risk not only to inmates, but all staff as well. The risk of infection is obvious, but losing corrections staff—whether for illness or because they accompany prisoners to hospitals—makes facilities more dangerous to both parties.
Unfortunately, AG Barr also stated this measure would exclude criminals with convictions for violent crimes or sex offenses.
Clearly, Barr (mis)understands all SOs to be the same, when in reality, they are not. And not those who have been convicted of a sex offense are violent. “Killing a person” can take the form of First-Degree Murder with a possible death penalty all the way to Misdemeanor Motor Vehicle Homicide which can carry as small of a sentence as a fine. Likewise, “sex offenses” also comprise a wide variety of behavior along a similar scale from the most violent (which is what the public perceives as a “sex offense”) down to a male urinating in public in some states or downloading a file of what was thought to be adult (legal) pornography but that included a picture/s of child pornography.
According to AG Barr, approximately 10,000 federal inmates are over the age of 60 and are considered to be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. This does not include the numbers of inmates who are under 60, but at high risk due to underlying medical conditions. Barr, and the BOP, should be pushing for early home confinement for ALL prisoners who fit these criteria and have not committed a VIOLENT crime. One cannot say, although the BOP does, that all sex offenses are violent crimes. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Violent crime includes murder, rape and sexual assault, robbery, and assault.” (https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=31).
I encourage all of the readers of this blog to contact not only their Senators and Congressional Representatives, but also AG Barr to press for individual assessment of inmates convicted of sex offenses. Many of them have completed their time in a meaningful manner and have participated fully in programming. Their early home confinement would allow them to continue therapy, be home for their families, and if allowed and able…to work and become productive tax-paying citizens. It would be unconscionable for a specific sentence for a sex offense, no matter how minor in the scheme of things, to become a death sentence due to ignorance and pandering to public fear.
Written correspondence to the Department, including the Attorney General, may be sent to:
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
The Department may be contacted by phone at the following:
- Department Comment Line: 202-353-1555
- Department of Justice Main Switchboard: 202-514-2000
- TTY/ASCII/TDD: 800-877-8339 (or Federal IP Relay Service)