COVID-19 Information for Families of Incarcerated Individuals
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 the Federal Public Defender’s Office remains dedicated to our clients, their families, and the community during these difficult and trying times. And here is what we do know:
Information for Federal Public Defender Clients with Pending Cases
The Federal Public Defender’s Office remains operational during the pandemic. Our physical offices are closed to the public, but our phones are open and all staff are working from home. We are doing our part to stem the spread of COVID-19 by working remotely. Our staff also continue to speak with our detained clients, appear in court by video conference, and represent our clients’ interests during the pandemic
If you have questions about your case, your loved one’s case, or getting your loved one released on bond, please email or call the attorney assigned to the case. If you are unsure of the attorney’s phone number, please call our office at 206.553.1100 (Seattle) or 253.593.6710 (Tacoma). Our receptionists will transfer your call directly to the attorney.
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. The BOP has indicated this rule will remain in place until at least May 18th and 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 limiting phone calls and email as they try to manage social distancing. Even those facilities that have severely limited access to phones and emails tell us that they are still processing mail, so you might want to try that option as well.
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. There is also more information here.
Efforts to release sentenced individuals from BOP custody
We are trying to get people released from custody via a variety of avenues, and depending on the particular facts in each person’s case. Here are some of the ways in which we are trying to address the need to reduce the inmate population to protect our clients and their families:
Home confinement: Attorney General Barr announced last month that he would expand use of “home confinement”–meaning, rather than serving out a sentence in prison, the person would serve it at home. Home confinement is a form of relief the BOP can grant on their own. It doesn’t involve the courts at all.
The BOP issued a memo on April 22nd saying that it is reviewing these criteria in deciding who to release to 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 statement BOP made on this topic. The BOP’s memo makes clear that individuals do not need to apply for 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: Compassionate release is available post-sentencing and asks the sentencing judge to change the sentence to time served for “extraordinary and compelling reasons.” Compassionate release is not easy to get, though it is an important tool we are using to try to get the most vulnerable (elderly and medically at risk) 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, personal circumstances, and 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, which means he/she does not need to have an attorney to file it for him/her. The person can also have the assistance of counsel. Our attorneys are filing a number of Compassionate Release motions for former clients. 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 we know about their case. But we welcome all inquiries regarding this option for relief.
We can only be appointed to help people who were sentenced in the Western District of Washington in the Seattle or Tacoma federal courthouses. However, if you or your loved one was sentenced out of this district but is incarcerated at the FDC SeaTac, we can help direct you to the attorney in the correct district for assistance.
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 already submitted a request to the warden, and where the person would live if released from prison. Also, include your name and all of your contact information in that email. You can send that information to WAW_FPDinmateMessages@fd.org.