Judge rips feds over prison quarantine policies
Pre-release holds on inmates at prisons hit hard by the coronavirus are ‘Kafkaesque,’ the New York-based judge says.
A federal judge in New York has slammed the federal Bureau of Prisons for what she contends are “illogical” and “Kafkaesque” quarantine policies that put inmates and the community at greater risk of contracting coronavirus.
U.S. District Court Judge Alison Nathan, in a decision dated Sunday, excoriated federal officials over their practice of putting inmates considered or approved for early release into a pre-release quarantine before they are sent home. The period typically lasts 14 days, but the judge noted that it can be extended, potentially repeatedly, if another inmate in the same group tests positive for the virus.
Nathan delivered the stinging rebuke of the federal prisons’ policy as she ordered the immediate release of Gerard Scparta, a former New York Police Department officer who pleaded guilty last year to involvement in a Social Security disability fraud scheme.
“In these circumstances, community spread through individuals not showing symptoms is inevitable, including in units of inmates who have been approved for home confinement,” Nathan wrote. “This is an illogical and self-defeating policy that appears to be inconsistent with the directive of the Attorney General, ungrounded in science, and a danger to both Mr. Scparta and the public health of the community.”
Last month, Attorney General William Barr ordered federal prisons to step up releases to home confinement because of the danger that Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, poses to elderly inmates and others with serious health conditions.
At the time, Barr said prisoners set for transfer to home confinement would be held at least 14 days to be confident they weren’t transmitting the virus into the community. But on April 3, as outbreaks of Covid-19 intensified at several federal prisons, Barr issued another directive relaxing that stricture.
Nathan said in her decision that it was unclear how or whether that new guidance was being implemented. She ruled in response to a request brought by Scparta, 55, who was serving an 18-month sentence at a federal prison in Butner, N.C., among those hardest hit by the virus.
Nathan noted that despite Barr’s shift, prosecutors said authorities at Butner had “not been exercising case-by-case discretion” to release inmates before completing the 14-day quarantine.
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