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COVID-19 Sparks New Debate Over Snubbed Prison Bill

H.R. 4018 Clarifies that the BOP Must Include Earned Prisoner Credits in the Elderly Home Confinement Calculation

Miami, FL - March 24, 2020 -- President Donald Trump announced on Sunday that the Trump administration is “going to take a look at” the possibility of releasing “totally nonviolent prisoners,” as COVID-19 is expected to infiltrate prisons with devastating consequences. One solution is in plain sight: a bill introduced by Congressman, Ted Deutch, which has been stalled by “a handful of lawmakers,” under which nonviolent elderly offenders would be released early to home detention (H.R. 4018).

With the U.S. presidential re-election less than eight months away and the downpour of COVID-19 washing ashore new challenges, the failure to take immediate action could prove to be costly to the American taxpayer. H.R. 4018 unanimously passed in the House of Representatives in November of 2018. The bill would save taxpayers yearly hundreds of millions of dollars by fixing the Bureau of Prison’s calculation under the Elderly Home Confinement Program (EHC). The failure to pass the bill in the Senate now threatens thousands of lives, and could add over a billion dollars in taxpayer moneys, unless Trump’s executive order focuses on releasing elderly inmates.

Self-quarantine is an impossibility in prison, and elderly inmates are already the costliest prisoners to the government. As the Office of the Inspector General determined, “the BOP spent approximately $881 million [ ] to incarcerate aging inmates” in a single year. With the enactment of the First Step Act in 2018, which incorporates the EHC, the Trump administration has surpassed efforts by prior administrations in substantially reducing healthcare costs to the government and has received widespread bipartisan praise. But after the First Step Act was enacted, the Bureau of Prisons did the unexpected when it decided to exclude earned prisoner credits from its EHC calculation, thereby making it substantially less effective.

The goal of H.R. 4018 is to clarify that credits already earned must necessarily be included in the BOP’s EHC calculation. Under normal circumstances, the clarified EHC could save the government hundreds of millions of dollars every year. But these are not normal times. With COVID-19 now threatening those very inmates that were meant to be placed on home confinement in the first place, the mounting costs to the American taxpayer will be unthinkable, unless the Senate immediately passes H.R. 4018.

Advocates, such as the ACLU, have recently called out for mass prisoner releases. Other countries have already taken drastic measures. Among them is Iran, which recently mass released 85,000 inmates. Unless our government acts now, thousands of lives could be lost, and the tax burden of Americans could sky-rocket as quickly as the economy is plunging.

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