March 25, 2020

CORONAVIRUS: Harris, Booker, Jeffries Introduce Bill Aimed at Vulnerable Incarcerated Individuals

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), both members of the Judiciary Committee, on Wednesday introduced a bill aimed at the large federal prison population that is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), will introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives this week. 

The Emergency Community Supervision Act of 2020 would immediately place vulnerable individuals – those who are pregnant, those with underlying health issues, and those who are age 50 or older – in community supervision outside of prison, unless they pose a violent threat to the community.

“Research demonstrates how dangerous coronavirus is for the elderly and those with underlying conditions or compromised immune systems,” said Harris. “Unfortunately, many incarcerated individuals fall within those high risk categories. In the midst of this pandemic, we must take reasonable steps to prevent potential exposure to coronavirus by reducing the incarcerated population wherever possible. This bill would improve our ability to provide immediate and humane treatment to some of our most vulnerable.”

“For thousands of people behind bars, contracting COVID-19 is tantamount to a death sentence,” said Booker. “Those in prison and jail tend to have much higher rates of underlying health issues than the general public, and the conditions of confinement make social distancing virtually impossible. We have an obligation to do everything we can to prevent the spread of this deadly disease, and that means moving certain incarcerated people to community supervision when they don’t pose a violent threat to our communities and are facing high risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.”

"In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must do everything in our power to ensure the safety, health and well-being of those incarcerated as well as those working in the prison system," said Congressman Jeffries. "Incarcerated individuals have higher rates of underlying health issues than the public, and the condition of their confinement makes impossible the social distancing needed to slow the spread of COVID-19. These are extraordinary times, and we must implement lifesaving measures like the immediate release of vulnerable, non-violent individuals into community supervision to prevent a catastrophe."

The Emergency Community Supervision Act would make the following incarcerated individuals eligible for immediate placement in community supervision:

  • Pregnant individuals (seven percent of women in federal prison are pregnant)
  • Individuals with diabetes
  • Individuals with congestive heart failure or coronary artery disease
  • Individuals with chronic lung disease or asthma
  • Individuals with other immune system deficiencies, such as HIV, sickle cell anemia, or cancer
  • Individuals who are 50 years of age or older (approx. 33,000 individuals behind bars are age 50 or older; approx. 26,000 are age 50 or older and are nonviolent offenders)
  • Individuals who have 12 months or less to serve on their sentence

The bill also would limit the use of pre-trial detention unless the person is a flight risk or a violent threat. And it would limit the use of in-person supervised release where appropriate, as well as the use of incarceration for technical violations for supervised release violation.

The law would expire 60 days following the end date of the current national emergency.

The bill is endorsed by:

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Sentencing Project

Drug Policy Alliance

The Innocence Project

The Justice Roundtable

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

The College and Community Fellowship