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Trump administration reverses prisoner coronavirus release policy, advocates say

On Monday, some prisoners were told that officials were no longer considering early releases for inmates who have served less than half their sentence.

By Josh Gerstein | 21 April 2020

POLITICO — A coronavirus-related policy shift that could have cleared the way for thousands of federal prisoners to be sent home early was abruptly reversed this week, according to friends and family members of inmates.

Prison officials indicated earlier this month that inmates who had served less than half their sentences could still be considered for early release to limit the spread of infection behind bars. However, inmates in various prisons who had been put into prerelease quarantine almost two weeks ago were advised Monday by authorities that the policy had changed, lawyers and associates said. Officials would not waive a requirement that prisoners must have completed 50 percent their sentence to be eligible for early release during the pandemic, the inmates were told.

A federal prosecutor in New York also confirmed the shift to a court Tuesday, drawing the ire of a judge for contradicting the position the government took just three days earlier.

However, shortly after this article was published Tuesday, a Justice Department spokesman suggested yet another course correction and indicated that officials at the Bureau of Prisons were confused or given inaccurate guidance about previous directives from Attorney General William Barr. […]

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