U.S. Attorney General Barr orders federal inmates released from Danbury prison in coronavirus threat
Inmates from the federal prison in Danbury, where at least 28 cases of COVID-19 have emerged in recent days, will be among those released after an order Friday night from U.S. Attorney General William Barr to ease inmate populations in the face of the pandemic.
Barr ordered the federal Bureau of Prisons to order home confinement for some inmates at facilities in Oakdale in Louisiana, Elkton in Ohio and Danbury.
Earlier in the week, nine inmates were reported to have been infected with COVID-19 at the low and minimum-security Danbury Federal Correction Institution, which houses 1,075 male and female inmates in three different levels of security. But on the federal prison coronavirus website Saturday, the agency listed 21 inmates and seven staff members testing positive with COVID-19.
“For all inmates whom you deem suitable candidates for home confinement, you are directed to immediately process them for transfer and then immediately transfer them following a 14-day quarantine,” Barr directed the BOP in a memo released late Friday.
“We are urgently reviewing all inmates, including those at Danbury, to determine which ones meet the criteria established by the Attorney General,” said Sue Allison in the public affairs office of the Bureau of Prisons. She said that since a previous communication from Barr in late March, the bureau has placed an additional 522 inmates on home confinement.
There are currently 3,324 inmate on home confinement and 7,368 inmates in Residential Reentry Centers, she said. “The BOP has 122 facilities spread out across the country and is coordinating with local health departments in each when we identify confirmed positive cases as well as identify symptomatic inmates,” Allison said.
Justice advocates, including state lawmakers and the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut have warned that prisons can be fast-moving incubators for the spread of the coronavirus. In recent days the ACLU filed a lawsuit against Gov. Ned Lamont is attempt to released some inmates from state prisons, particularly those with compromised immune systems; very little time left before their release; and those imprisoned for less-severe offenses.
Lamont and Department of Correction Commissioner Rollin Cook have resisted releasing state inmates in the pandemic.
In response to Barr’s order, David McGuire, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, said that as “modest” as Barr’s order is, it should be a signal to Lamont.
"Public health experts recognize that there is a heightened risk of infection for people who are in prisons and jails, and that downsizing the footprint of the criminal legal system should be a part of the COVID-19 public health response,” McGuire said Saturday morning.
“Governor Lamont and the Connecticut DOC have significant power to stop the spread of COVID-19 by releasing people who are incarcerated by the state,” McGuire continued. “While modest and not nearly enough to stop the spread of COVID-19 in federal prisons and protect people who live and work in prison, US Attorney General Barr’s directive stands in stark contrast to Governor Lamont’s refusal to issue any plan to safely release people in state-run prisons and jails.”
As of Friday afternoon, the state DOC reported that that 19 staff and 11 inmates in 17 agencu units including the central offive has tested positive for COVID-19, including one staff and one inmate at the Bridgeport Correctional Center; two staff and no inmates in the New Haven Correctional Center; and one staff and no inmates at the York Correctional Center, the women’s facility in East Lyme.