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First Step Joins with Organizations in a Letter to Attorney General: COVID & Compassionate Release

Updated: Jul 1, 2021

On March 12, 2021, First Step Alliance and many prominent non-profit organizations, including the ACLU, signed a letter addressed to the Attorney General of the United States, The Honorable Merrick B. Garland. The memo urges additional efforts to transfer federally incarcerated persons to home confinement and, based on compassionate release, not pursue re-incarceration of released persons.

"In recognition of the dangers of COVID-19 infections inherent in BOP or any congregate facilities, and acknowledging that the single most effective strategy for minimizing risk to incarcerated individuals, staff, and communities involve reduction of the prison population, this memorandum explores several ways BOP can more robustly implement the home confinement program, compassionate release, and other release programs in place during the pandemic and under relevant provisions of the CARES Act."

The letter requests that during this ongoing period of high risk related to COVID-19, using greater discretion to allow for the release of certain individuals in BOP custody would be especially beneficial. There are four specific revisions to current policy requested in the memo:

  1. Revise BOP policy and practice limiting consideration of home confinement and compassionate release to individuals who have served more than 50% of their sentences; instead, allow individuals who are at risk of severe COVID-19 infection to be considered irrespective of the time remaining on their sentences.

  2. Reduce the age for consideration of home confinement and compassionate release to 50 (currently 65). This is in addition to considering all individuals with medical vulnerabilities to COVID-19 for home confinement and compassionate release, regardless of age.

  3. Do not use disciplinary infractions to exclude people from consideration of home confinement or compassionate release.

  4. Reject the PATTERN tool as a criterion for consideration of home confinement or compassionate release.

The recommendations are just a few ways to help save lives by releasing people who are at heightened risk of COVID-19 infection and serious disease. As the BOP and DOJ are responsible for maintaining safe conditions and appropriate medical treatment, the requests are modest, common-sense approaches to increasing safety in correctional facilities.

The letter was organized by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Tzedek Association. The text of the letter and current list of signatories is included below:


National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL)

Tzedek Association

Aleph Institute

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law

Buried Alive Project

CAN-DO Foundation

The Center for HIV Law and Policy

Church of Scientology National Affairs Office

College and Community Fellowship

CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants)

Drug Policy Alliance

Due Process Institute

Federal Public and Community Defenders

First Step Alliance

Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Justice Action Network (JAN)

Justice Roundtable

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Legal Action Center (LAC)

Life for Pot

National Council of Churches (NCC)

National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls

National Incarceration Association (NIA)

North Carolina for Rational Sexual Offense Laws

Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP)

The Sentencing Project

The Taifa Group

Union for Reform Judaism

Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU)

Wilson Center for Science and Justice

CARES Act Organization Sign On Letter
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