concerns regarding COVID-19 outbreaks, some state and federal prisons
have granted vulnerable inmates an early release – and many prisons
that have not yet made that move are considering it. Recently, the
U.S. Attorney General issued an order that allowed inmates who
qualified for an early release the option of home confinement. That
brings the question: where will vulnerable federal prisoners be
housed? Even more importantly, how will these early prison releases
affect rental housing, leasing policies, and criminal background
screenings? While we don’t have answers to many of these questions
yet, here is a closer look at how federal and state governments
across the country are handling early prison releases.
Federal Releases and Home Confinement
In early April,
Attorney General Bill Barr ordered federal prisons to release
vulnerable inmates at facilities that were struggling with COVID-19
outbreaks. This specifically sped up the release process for prisons
in Danbury Connecticut, Oakdale Louisiana, and Elkton Ohio, all of
which were at the greatest risk of outbreaks. However, it’s
expected that the prisoner releases will continue as other facilities
become affected by the virus.
As of April 5th,
the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) reported that home confinement
cases had increased by over 40% since March and that these numbers
would continue to increase. The Attorney General’s initiative also
changed the criteria for which inmates are considered for home
confinement. Previously, federal prisoners were eligible for home
confinement once they had completed 90% of their sentences; Barr’s
initiative pushed for earlier releases based on a non-exhaustive list
of factors, including:
- The inmate’s age and vulnerability to the virus under CDC guidelines
- How much security the inmate requires, with priority being given to inmates in low and medium-security facilities
- The inmate’s conduct while in prison; those who engaged in violent or gang-related activities in prison or who have incurred a BOP violation within the last year do not receive priority treatment
- The inmate’s PATTERN (Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Needs) score; inmates with anything above a minimum score do not receive priority treatment
- The inmate’s risk of repeat offenses and public safety concerns, including verification that the conditions the inmate would be confined in once released would offer a lower risk of contracting the virus than if the inmate stayed in the prison
- An assessment of the crime the inmate was convicted for, as well as an assessment of the danger the inmate poses to the community. Some convictions, such as sex offenses, make an inmate ineligible for home confinement.
are transferred to home confinement, they will be placed in a
mandatory 14-day quarantine to ensure they are not showing any
COVID-19 symptoms. In March, these inmates were originally released
to location monitoring services and subject to supervised release.
The new initiative from AG Barr authorizes the BOP to “transfer
inmates to home confinement even if electronic monitoring isn’t
available, so long as the BOP determines… that doing so is
appropriate and consistent with our obligation to protect public
Without a doubt,
the influx of prisoners released to home confinement will impact on
the rental housing industry – even after the pandemic has ended.
There are nearly 2 million people incarcerated in state prisons and
local jails, but only 174,837 are in federal custody. This means
there are many more inmates who are likely to be released by local
governments, and that the eligibility requirements may vary from
State Level Releases
state and local governments have been conflicted over whether to
grant prisoners an early release due to COVID-19 outbreaks. In
Arizona, a state with one of the highest incarceration rates in the
nation, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has said that he feels the
precautions being taken with the virus are already sufficient. Other
states have gone back and forth regarding inmate eligibility, or on
how many prisoners would need to be released to mitigate an outbreak.
Some states have already granted inmates an early release. Here’s a
deeper look at how some cities and states are handling early prisoner
Stuart Rabner, New Jersey’s Chief Justice, signed an order that allowed the release of approximately 1,000 inmates from county jails. This applied to inmates jailed for probation violations, as well as people who were convicted in municipal courts or sentenced for low-level crimes in Superior Court.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced on April 7th that the state planned to release inmates in state prisons who were older, sick, or close to their release date. At that time, 141 prisoners were scheduled to be released within 90 days and there were 26 inmates 60 years old or older with chronic health conditions who had already served at least half their sentences. The governor also asked that the 60-day waiting period before being sent to parole be waived.
DeWine had previously asked courts to consider early release for 23 women who were pregnant or who had an infant in prison, as well as for 15 prisoners who were 60 years or older with 120 days or less left until their release date. In addition, county judges throughout the state have been working to reduce inmate populations by releasing nonviolent offenders. They’re also ordering police to issue citations rather than arrests and making a push for plea deals.
In March, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order that directed the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDRC) Secretary to stop the intake and/or transfer of inmates and youth offenders. The order also directs the Board of Parole Hearings to conduct all parole hearings through videoconferencing. This has led to the release of approximately 3,500 people who were serving sentences for non-violent offenses and were due for parole within 60 days. Additionally, the California Judicial Council has also voted to set 11 temporary emergency rules, which includes setting a state-wide of $0 for misdemeanors and lower-level felonies.
Colorado’s Executive Order D 2020 016 allows the state’s Department of Corrections to put a temporary limit on the number of prisoners it accepts. Prisoners that would have gone to those facilities are instead kept at pre-transfer facilities. The order also suspends cap and criteria for “earned time credits” and allows the department to refer inmates to a “special needs parole” program.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-29, which identified inmates who are potentially eligible for release from jails, including older inmates, those with chronic conditions, pregnant women, or people who are close to their release date. The order also includes those who are incarcerated for traffic violations or have been charged with failure to appear or failure to pay.
Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order that bars inmates who are accused or previously convicted of violent crimes from being released from jail without first paying bail. According to the Texas Tribune, there are reports that Harris County misdemeanor judges aren’t following the order and are instead abiding by a federal court’s order that allows for the automatic release of most misdemeanor defendants without requiring bail payment.
Alaska has released temporary order for police to avoid jailing anyone for misdemeanor charges, exception for domestic violence or stalking. Inmates can also request a bail hearing if they are concerned about COVID-19. There’s also now a temporary bail schedule for misdemeanor crimes, which allows anyone charged with a misdemeanor (other than those listed above) to be released on their own recognizance. Judges may also factor in the pandemic when considering release.
In NYC, over 650 inmates have been released. The city’s eligibility requirements for release are inmates convicted of misdemeanors and non-violent felonies with less than 1 year left of their sentence. Inmates with domestic violence or sexual offense charges are ineligible.
If there’s anything we’ve all learned with COVID-19, it’s that things change rapidly. This makes it difficult to predict exactly what the future holds. The pandemic has effectively put a halt on evictions, reduced the ability for tenants to pay rent, and greatly impacted the economy. It’s also threatened the lives of many Americans, including those who were or continue to be incarcerated. The federal and state prisoner releases certainly add a complicating element to an already complicated situation. We will continue to watch how things evolve and keep you updated as official guidelines are released.
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