COVID-19 Information for Families of Incarcerated Individuals

Posted by on April 29, 2020 in Press & Internal News

We know that this is a scary time to have a family member or friend in Bureau of Prisons custody. There’s a lot we don’t know about what’s going on inside the BOP right now, but here’s what we do know.

Information for Federal Public Defender Clients with Pending Cases

The Federal Public Defender’s Office remains open and operational during the pandemic.  We are doing our part to stem the spread of COVID-19 by working remotely.  If you have questions about your case, your loved one’s case, or getting your loved one released on bond, please email or call your attorney.  If you are unsure of your attorney’s phone number, please call our office phone lines at 213-894-2854 (Los Angeles), 714-338-4500 (Santa Ana), 951-276-6346 (Riverside). Our receptionist will transfer your call directly to your attorney and will also provide you with the attorney’s contact information.  Our staff continues to visit detained clients, appear in court, and represent our clients’ interests during the pandemic. The Federal Public Defender’s Office remains dedicated to our clients, their families, and the community during these difficult and trying times.

Communicating with your loved one

We understand that it is tough to get information from people in BOP custody right now. All facilities have suspended in person visits, and the BOP has said that that rule will remain in place until at least May 18th–though it seems likely that date will be extended. If you haven’t heard from your loved one in a while, it may be because some facilities have announced that they are suspending phone calls and email, because they don’t want people transmitting virus through contact with phones and computers. Even those facilities that have cut off phones and emails tell us that they are still processing mail, so you might want to try that.

The status of the BOP’s efforts to stop COVID-19

The BOP is posting information on its website each day about its efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the number of cases in each facility. We also highly recommend the Marshall Project’s reporting on the status of the BOP if you want more information.

Efforts to release sentenced individuals from BOP custody

There is a lot of confusion around the different ways that we are trying to get people released from custody–frankly, there’s lots of confusion even within the BOP. This is the basic information:

Home confinement: Attorney General Barr announced that last month that he would expand use of “home confinement”–meaning, rather than serving out a sentence in prison, you would serve it at home. Home confinement is a form of relief the BOP can grant you on their own. It doesn’t go through the courts at all.

The BOP issued a memo on April 22nd saying that it is reviewing these criteria in deciding who to release for home confinement:

  • a clean discipline history for the last 12 months
  • a verifiable release plan.
  • current offense and prior convictions cannot “include violence, a sex offense, or [be] terrorism related”
  • priority is being given to those in low and minimum security facilities
  • priority is being given to those with a minimum PATTERN score (PATTERN is a risk assessment tool.)
  • review for age and vulnerability under the CDC’s guidelines
  • priority is being given to those who have served 50% or more of their sentence, or who have 18 months left on their sentence and have served 25% or more.

We don’t know if this is the final criteria or not, but it’s the last thing the BOP said. The BOP’s memo makes clear that individuals do not need to apply to home confinement. The BOP is releasing little information about how it is processing these home confinement requests, but what we do know suggests that they are screening everyone to decide whether they fit the criteria. So even if your loved one can’t submit a request, they should be considered.

So far, the BOP has released only a small number of people on home confinement. If you want to keep up to date on the home confinement issue, the Marshall Project has done a good job of reporting on this, including this article.

Compassionate Release: There’s a second form of release that is different from release on home confinement called compassionate release. This is where you ask the sentencing judge to change the sentence to time served. Compassionate release is not easy to get, though it is an important tool we are using to try to get the most elderly and sick people out of the BOP. To get compassionate release, a person must first submit a request to the warden. The request should include information about the individual’s medical conditions, and also explain where he or she would live if released from custody. Thirty days after the request was submitted to the warden, a person can file their request with the district court that sentenced them.

A person can file their request pro se–meaning you don’t need to have an attorney to file it for you. Our office is filing a limited number of motions with the help of an attorney. We are prioritizing those who we think are most likely to be granted compassionate release: based on age, health conditions, what we know about the facility where they are, the percentage of sentence served, and anything else know about the case. And we can only help people who were sentenced in the Central District of California–meaning you were sentenced in a courthouse in Los Angeles, Santa Ana, or Riverside. If you want our office to look at your loved one’s case, please send the name and any other information you have in your possession, including, if you have it, register number, case number, medical conditions, whether the person has submitted a request to the warden, and where the person would live if released from prison. You can send that information to contact_us@fpdcdca.org.