Advocates and Lawmakers Urge Trump Administration to Release Elderly Inmates Vulnerable to Coronavirus

"They were not sentenced to death, and they should be released immediately."


Thousands of elderly federal inmates are incarcerated in prisons that could become hothouses for COVID-19, and advocates and members of Congress say the Trump administration needs to take rapid action to get them out of harm's way.

On Tuesday criminal justice groups and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle—not to mention inmates themselves—urged the Trump administration to use existing compassionate release policies, as well as mass clemency or executive orders, to free at-risk federal inmates.

This is not an idle fear. On Saturday an inmate at the Metropolitan Detention Center in New York City tested positive for COVID-19—the first confirmed inmate case in the federal prison system. Two more people incarcerated at a federal prison complex in Oakdale, Louisiana, tested positive on Sunday. Three employees at Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities have tested positive as well.

"There are thousands of sick and elderly people in federal prison whose continued incarceration serves no public safety purpose," Kevin Ring, president of the criminal justice advocacy group FAMM, said in a press release. "This same population is the most vulnerable to coronavirus. They were not sentenced to death, and they should be released immediately."

Compassionate release is a federal policy that allows elderly and terminally ill inmates to go home ahead of schedule, affording them the small mercy of ending their lives among family and in relative peace.

The FIRST STEP Act, a criminal justice bill passed in 2018, expanded the program to allow inmates to petition judges for relief if they are denied or ignored by the BOP. Between 2014 and 2018, at least 81 federal inmates died while waiting for the government to review their applications for compassionate release. It also expanded the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program, which allows elderly inmates to serve out the last third of their sentence in home confinement.

Several conservative groups—including FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and the Justice Action Network—urged President Trump in a letter today to announce an executive order "making clear that elderly, non-violent prisoners who have served 2/3 of their time should be transferred to home confinement as soon as possible."

"Given the risk of Coronavirus sweeping through prisons like a fire in a dry barn, impacting corrections officers and their surrounding communities, it's time to take the First Step Act one small step further," the groups said.

Many of those same groups joined the American Civil Liberties Union, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Sentencing Project, and other criminal justice organizations in a letter advising Trump to commute the sentences of federal inmates who are terminally or chronically ill, or have underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk of serious complications from COVID-19.

"As the United States continues to combat the global health pandemic rapidly spreading throughout the country, it is critical that we not forget the millions of people working and detained in jails, prisons and detention centers," the letter says.

A bipartisan group of 14 senators, led by Dick Durbin (D–Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa), is calling for similar steps. In a letter yesterday to Attorney General William Barr and BOP Director Michael Carvajal, the senators urged the agencies to to release or transfer at-risk inmates under compassionate release or the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program.

"Conditions of confinement do not afford individuals the opportunity to take proactive steps to protect themselves, and prisons often create the ideal environment for the transmission of contagious disease," the senators wrote.

While Trump has granted clemency in several high-profile cases and decried the unfairness of long drug sentences, his administration has resisted mass commutations like the Obama administration's clemency initiative.

In the meantime, FAMM is urging at-risk inmates to petition their wardens for compassionate release immediately.

"That starts the clock," Ring said. "If Congress and the president don't act before then, the courts will have the chance to do the right thing."

Inmates, too, are putting their hope for relief in the Trump White House.

"We inmates want Trump and William Barr to release non-violent, minor crimes, and elderly inmates, just like the state and counties are doing," Lisa Marie Casey, a 45-year-old, wheelchair-bound inmate serving a 24-month sentence at FCI Aliceville, a federal women's prison in Alabama, wrote in an email to Reason today. "Warden [Patricia] Bradley is not taking anyone's compassionate release requests, as I have sent in three with medical documentation […] and still nothing. I am not the only one."

The Justice Department, the White House, and FCI Aliceville did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this story.

NEXT: Richard Epstein Cops to a 'Stupid Gaffe' in Controversial Coronavirus Essay That Caught Trump Administration Attention

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  1. Furlough them for a specific period, renew the furlough if the pestilence continues, and when the furlough finally expires (after things have calmed down) put them back in prison.

    Unless, independently of the pestilence, there are factors for clemency, which I assume will frequently be the case, in which case these clemencies should be granted separately from the virus thing.

    It’s my understanding that the President can fool around with sentences, why can’t he grant furloughs?

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  2. affording them the small mercy of ending their lives among family

    , even if that family isn’t supposed to be closer than six feet, further than for prison visits?

  3. At least the infected prisoners will have access to high-quality govt medical care.

  4. What did these elderly prisoners do, that caused them to be locked up in prison? We always get in these blurbs here at Reason the one non-violent poster case—and this one’s in a wheelchair! Awwwww!—–and then mention another 80 or so inmates with zero information on their crimes.

    Non-violent co-conspirator to distribute a controlled substance? Meh, sure, maybe. Serial burglar? Let him rot.

  5. So where will these elderly inmates be going when they get out? Some number of them either don’t have families to go to, or have families that won’t take them in.

    1. Pretty sure Andrew Cuomo will take them in.

  6. Many-many-MANY of these elderly scum-dawg violators are law-breaking HEATHENS who BROKE THE LAW, dammit!!! NO MERCY for them!!!

    I urge you to NOT be like them!!! Do NOT disrespect the AMA, the FDA, or the Flute Police! All must OBEY Government Almighty, and the Sacred Trumptatorship! All hail!!!

    To find precise details on what NOT to do, to avoid the flute police, please see … This has been a pubic service, courtesy of the Church of SQRLS!

  7. The old and the criminals need to GET OUT OF OUR WAY, dammit! It is a sentiment I see repeated from time to time…

    Anyone recall the Iran-Iraq wars of the 1980s? Lots of it was fought in low-laying salt-water marshes. Very tough terrain for Iraqi military vehicles… And it is expensive to bring in bunches of rocks or logs to raise up the mud to make roads. But there were BUTTLOADS of Iranian corpses just laying around for free! So the Iraqis just limed ’em up (for rot-proofing), and lined ‘em up and laid ‘em down to make roads! Lime ’em up, line ’em up, lay ’em down!

    Old-geezer criminals eat up our budget that could be used to grease our war machines, dammit!!! Afghans aren’t going to bomb themselves!!! Lime up their bodies like cordwood!

    Iran-Iraq war…
    For those who may not believe me…
    Documentary : Madness in the Marshes: Hussein’s Last War : The Iraqi leader’s tactics were surgically precise in the spring of 1984. Thousands of Iranian troops paid the ultimate price.

  8. “advising Trump to commute the sentences of federal inmates who are terminally or chronically ill, or have underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk of serious complications from COVID-19”

    So if the general risk is 1% but mine is 1.000000001 %, then I should be released ?
    That people might actually die in jail is not something newly discovered.

  9. I am only in favor of releasing Felons “during times of Pestilence” if they are making room for Pelosi and Schumer.

  10. LMAO!!! So… Release all the prisoners so they can go spread COVID-19 onto the general public and then order the general public to lock themselves up as prisoners and call it “self-isolation”??? 🙂

    This gets funnier by the day. If the government cannot even contain this virus in a lock-down no-rights institute what in the world makes them think they can contain it in the general public.

    1. Well said. And you’re right these government goons cannot control anything or anyone.

      What they have made clear is that walls are for the law abiding citizens (as are gun laws) but the criminals and illegals have free reign to move about.

  11. Such a policy pretends that prisons have never been an undesirable place to go for those ached to be punished, whom have no defensible right to their conduct of legal levy.

    Cruel & unusual punishment certainly would be to leave them housed together. However, the COVID-19 were certainly hype, however true, whilst frankly many deadly diseases have pre-existed.

    What makes felons so special that they get a get out of jail free card just because a more popular deadly disease can hit more yet still not all people?

    Reasonable measures should be taken to remove those persons whom are not at risk from being around those persons afflicted or at high risk in prisons. As such, the smartest move would seem to be to designate a prison for those infected, one for those at-risk, and one sort for those not considered to be at great risk.

    Sure, release everyone and government has less work to do and may draw paychecks for little or no work, hmm.

  12. I’m losing sleep at night worrying about how our convicts are doing.

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