High Profile Inmate’s Transfer To Home Confinement Confuses Public On Directive Of CARES Act

In April 2020, then-Attorney General William Barr issued a memorandum to the Director of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to transfer minimum security inmates from prison camps to home confinement. Issued as part of the CARES Act, an initiative to address the growing crisis of COVID-19, Barr’s memorandum allowed the BOP to controls its population by sending some inmates to serve the remainder of their term on home confinement, a program used for decades without much controversy. However, Barr’s memo lifted the limit of time the inmate could serve on home confinement which had been set to the last 10% of the sentence term or 6 months … to an unlimited amount of time. Remember, at the time, nobody had any idea how long the pandemic would last and, over a year later, we are still unsure.

The CARES Act should have been easy for the BOP to implement. The agency has policy and discretion to determine the security level and institution where a person serves their prison term. With four different levels of security, and 122 institutions to choose from, the BOP can send someone to a High (penitentiary), Medium (federal correctional institution), Low, or Minimum (camp). When it comes to home confinement pre-CARES Act, many of those from any of these security levels could finish their prison term on home confinement as part of their sentence. So a person in a penitentiary, who had been in for decades, could finish his or her prison term at home so long as they met the program requirements. The CARES Act simply increased the pool size of those eligible for home confinement by including just Minimum (and some Low) who had underlying health conditions. In fact, of the more than 25,000 inmates released to home confinement from March 2020 until March 2021, only 4,400 of them were as a result of the CARES Act … the remainder were just those serving the last 10% of their sentence (capped at 6 months). The BOP’s actions under the CARES Act was stated to be a success when BOP Director Michael Carvajal stated in March during a Congressional hearing that of the 25,000 on home confinement, only 21 people had violated their terms of home confinement.

When the CARES Act was initiated for transfer of inmates to home confinement, most everyone in the country rallied around the concept. We needed to prevent prisons from becoming Petri dishes of COVID-19 fueled by lax medical care in the prison combined with overcrowding. During a pandemic, medical issues in the prison soon become medical issues in the community.

If there had been a blind approach to transferring inmates to home confinement, based solely on the criteria stated by AG Barr, there would be thousands more inmates on home confinement. However, the BOP has been slow at moving inmates out of harms way … and that is still a problem. Some high profile inmate transfers have caused unneeded criticism of the program. Former President Donald Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, was transferred to home confinement under the CARES Act and then sent back to prison … then back to home confinement. It should not be this difficult.

Most recently, Rita Crundwell, the notorious Dixon, IL Comptroller who embezzled millions was transferred to home confinement under the CARES Act. Outrage ensued and many have called her treatment under the CARES Act as a sort of favorable treatment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Crundwell was serving a 20 year prison term for her actions and, according to the BOP’s own website, is scheduled for release on October 20, 2029. She is wearing an ankle bracelet, her movements are monitored and she is subject to numerous calls to assure she is at home. If it makes those troubled by Crundwell’s transfer to home confinement feel any better, there remains a chance that she along with thousands of other inmates could return to prison institutions once the pandemic is declared over. President Joe Biden’s Adminstration is under intense pressure from lawmakers, criminal justice groups and citizens to allow those on home confinement to stay there beyond the declaration of COVID-19 being over.

The fact is that inmates like Crundwell are serving their prison term in accordance with US laws and BOP policies. Crundwell has served half of her sentence, a guideline used by the BOP, and obviously has underlying health conditions that puts her at risk of dying or being hospitalized from COVID-19. She was previously serving her time at a minimum security camp (satellite camp adjacent to a medium security prison) in Pekin, IL … she had no incident reports that would prohibit her from being on home confinement … her scoring under a program called PATTERN gave her a minimum risk score. The misguided outrage of Crundwell’s “release” represents a misunderstanding of our society about prison and highlights a prejudice many have against all of those who are incarcerated. One can only hope that the BOP continues to use tools like home confinement to depopulate prisons to continue the battle against COVID-19.

Criminal reform is only going to come about when our society realizes that prisons are a solution only in the most extreme of cases of punishment. There are thousand of inmates who remain in prison who could be transferred to home confinement who are old, sick, under care for chronic conditions and are no threat to society. The BOP has been rightly criticized for its care of inmates and protection of its own staff during this pandemic where tens of thousands of inmates/staff have been infected at every one of its 122 institutions. Over 240 inmates and 4 staff have died.

The BOP is doing a poor enough job at protecting inmates, most all of whom will rejoin society again when their sentence is over. When the agency has a program of moving inmates out of unsafe conditions in prison that present a clear danger to the inmate, staff and the communities immediately around the prison, it should be encouraged to continue. Any backlash surroundings Crundwell’s transfer should be short-lived … at least we should hope.

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