Coronavirus Possibly Spreading to Prisons: ‘Now Would Be the Time to Commute Some Sentences’

Coronavirus Possibly Spreading to Prisons: ‘Now Would Be the Time to Commute Some Sentences’


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Janet Ybarra
Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press

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A Democratic congresswoman is calling on the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to commute the sentences of some federal inmates as part of its response to relieve the potential for the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic to infect prison populations.

The virus has infected more than 145,000 people and has killed more than 5,500 worldwide. More than 3,000 cases have been reported in the United States, with 60 deaths, according to most recent data.

“It has crossed every socio- and political fault line in our country. When we’re talking about our most vulnerable, our low-income residents and those experiencing homelessness and seniors and that we are also including the incarcerated men and women, who are amongst one of the most vulnerable populations and given the crowding and overpopulation in our prisons for a confluence of other reasons we won’t get into in this interview, are an ecosystem in a petri dish for the spreading of this pandemic, which is why I partnered with my colleagues, Rep. [Nydia] Velasquez [D-NY] to use the following power for guidance on how we will contain and mitigate this epidemic behind the wall,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said in an interview with the Rev. Al Sharpton, on his MSNBC program. “Do they have access to testing, has anyone tested positive and what are the quarantine measures? The fact that many of these facilities are already subpar and they do not have access to soap, to alcohol-based hand sanitizers and regular showers, what is the guidance for those incarcerated and for staff? And that the B.O.P. use their full powers, I think now would be the time to commute some sentences, to exact clemency and to take care of our most vulnerable. Ten percent of those incarcerated are over the age of 60 and already have an underlying condition.”

Pressley said she was not pleased with the response by BOP officials to the congressional inquiry.

“And bearing in mind that 95 percent of those incarcerated will be released. This is an imminent public health threat for those currently incarcerated and ultimately will be released. They did respond to the letter, not within the time line that we outlined but their response was woefully inadequate,” she said. “I’m encouraged while they have stopped visits, that phone calls will be free, but these are the sorts of basic things that should have been happening anyway, which is why I did introduce the people’s justice resolution, a radical reimagining of our criminal justice system that centers the humanity and dignity. Be de-privatizing phone calls, et cetera. And being charged for hand sanitizer they can’t use use themselves is unconscionable.”

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