News Release

Senate COVID-19 Legislation Inadequate to Address Grave Crisis in Federal and State Prisons and Jails

Washington, DC (July 28, 2020) – Last night, Senate Republicans unveiled new coronavirus legislation that  fails to include the critical measures needed to address the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in federal and state correctional facilities. As the United States faces a rapidly escalating COVID-19 health crisis, the virus is spreading rapidly in prisons and jails, with grave consequences for incarcerated persons, staff, and surrounding communities.
 
According to the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), as of July 27th, even with less than adequate testing, among just the approximately 128,978 individuals incarcerated at BOP-managed institutions and the 13,721 at community-based facilities, there have been 10,286 infections and 101 deaths reported. That means about one in every 14 individuals detained in a BOP-managed institution or community-based facility has tested positive. Indeed, a number of correctional facilities around the country are currently the nation’s top hot spots. Of course, social distancing in correctional facilities is not possible, and sanitation and medical care are often inadequate.
 
While the Senate legislation includes additional funding for the BOP to manage the crisis within its facilities, the bill does not provide the additional authorities needed to meaningfully reduce the disproportionately high population of vulnerable persons in U.S. prisons and jails. Without a robust federal plan to both reduce incarceration and enhance the safety of incarcerated persons, the virus will continue to spread rapidly behind bars and more lives will be lost.
 
“It is absolutely unconscionable that the Senate bill turns a blind eye to the measures needed to address the crisis in federal and state jails and prisons,” said National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) President Nina J. Ginsberg. “While many NACDL members and others are generously volunteering their time and skills seeking compassionate release and other forms of relief for individuals, it is no substitute for the kind of action only the federal government can take to promptly address this escalating crisis. The urgency of the situation cannot be overstated.” 
 
Several important measures have been included in the House-passed HEROES Act and proposed in the Senate, but they were ultimately ignored and left out of the newly-unveiled Senate legislation. Those measures would: (1) ensure judges have adequate authority to adjust sentences to protect the health of incarcerated persons and corrections staff, (2) streamline and strengthen home confinement, compassionate release, and other mechanism to address the rapidly evolving crisis; (3) divert and decrease new admissions to correctional settings; and (4) encourage the states to implement similar measures.
 
“The pandemic has converted incarceration in our nation’s jails and prisons into potential death sentences, and that is completely unacceptable,” Ginsberg added. 

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Contacts

Ivan Dominguez, NACDL Senior Director of Public Affairs and Communications, (202) 465-7662 or idominguez@nacdl.org

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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