Prisoners Sent Home Due to COVID Face Possible Return

Some 4,000 federal offenders could soon return to prison — not because they violated the terms of their home confinement, but because the U.S. appears to be moving past the worst of the pandemic, reports the New York Times. At the end of the Trump administration, the Justice Department issued a memo saying inmates whose sentences lasted beyond the “pandemic emergency period” would have to go back to prison. Some lawmakers and criminal justice advocates are urging President Joe Biden to revoke the rule and use his executive power to keep them on home confinement or commute their sentences entirely, arguing that the practice costs less and exemplifies a better form of justice. Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Mr. Biden, said in a statement that the president was “committed to reducing incarceration and helping people re-enter society,” but he referred questions about the future of those in home confinement to the Justice Department.

The United States spent an average of $37,500 to keep federal inmates imprisoned during the 2018 fiscal year. Home confinement costs around $13,000 a year, with expenses including monitoring equipment and paying private contractors to handle supervision, according to a 2017 Government Accountability Office report. The vast majority of the 24,000 federal prisoners who were released to home confinement because of the coronavirus crisis followed the rules. Inmates are typically allowed to serve the final six months, or 10 percent, of their sentence on home confinement. Larry Cosme, the national president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which represents probation officials, cautioned against changing those requirements without a proper review and said the releases put a strain on those responsible for monitoring the inmates.

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June 28, 2021 at 11:30AM

Feds Denied 80% of Appeals for ‘Compassionate Release’ from Inmates During COVID

Federal authorities denied nearly 80 percent of the requests by prisoners for compassionate release last year, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC).

Data for the 2020 calendar year provided by federal courts around the country show that 2,549 motions for early release were granted out of a total 12,138 filed, or roughly 21 percent, the USSC said in a report released Thursday.

While the percentage of approvals is small, it actually represents an increase compared to past years―reflecting fears that American’s overcrowded prisons were serving as “super-spreaders” for COVID-19, endangering not only inmates, but correctional staff and their families.

Offenders in federal custody can have their sentences reduced for “extraordinary and compelling reasons” if they show they no longer represent a danger to the community. The regulations were largely designed to apply to older prisoners suffering from a terminal or disabling illness.

In practice, however, most such petitions are turned down.

Between 2013 and 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) approved just six percent of the approximately 5,600 appeals for reduced sentences by federal inmates, according to data analyzed by The Marshall Project and The New York Times.

Nevertheless, many critics charge that the high number of petitions for compassionate release in 2020, and the relatively small percentage of approvals in the midst of a national health emergency, together underline the flaws of a system that perpetuates the inequalities of mass incarceration.

“Compassionate release is not a transparent and linear process, but an unpredictably ordered series of obstacles,” the Prison Policy Initiative said in a policy brief last year.

“Even when a compassionate release system operates efficiently and fairly, the majority of people in prison are still not eligible for it. As currently constituted, these programs exclude too many people…these systems were never designed for quick responses during a global pandemic.”

Bureaucratic obstacles relaxed after the 2018 First Step Act gave federal inmates the right to directly petition courts for release if their initial requests were rejected by the BOP.

The outbreak of the pandemic added more urgency.

According to the BOP, about one-third of those held in federal custody ― more than 46,000 individuals ― tested positive for COVID-19 in 2020. Moreover, a significant percentage of federal incarcerees suffered from chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, that placed them at greater risk for contracting the disease.

Those fears appears to have made a positive difference in the rate of approval. The majority of the appeals granted in 2020 responded to inmates’ appeals to federal courts after an initial rejection by the BOP.

But the increase was still not enough to address the real needs of sick and elderly inmates who have been behind bars for decades, and pose little risk to public safety, say advocacy groups.

The PPI policy brief called on authorities to “look beyond compassionate release” and consider strategies like expedited parole and mass commutations “to slow the spread of the pandemic and prevent a needless tragedy behind bars.”

The USSC Data Report and Tables can be downloaded here.

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June 11, 2021 at 07:44AM

Bureau of Prisons Allowed Four Inmates to Escape Through the Use of Dummies and Body Doubles: DOJ Inspector General

Inmates at a federal prison in Texas pulled a fast one on prison guards by escaping with the help of body doubles–both real and fake.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Inspector General (OIG), four people were able to successfully abscond and evade detection from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) Satellite Prison Camp (SPC) in Beaumont, Texas for over half a day before staff even realized what had occurred right under their noses.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz noted that DOJ OIG had taken stock of “multiple investigations involving prison escapes” in a letter-style report addressed to BOP Director Michael Carvajal, a Trump era holdover and political appointee who was installed in his current position by then-Attorney General Bill Barr in Feb. 2020.

“As Director, Mr. Carvajal oversees the operation of 122 Bureau of Prisons facilities, six regional offices, two staff training centers, 10 contract facilities, and 22 residential reentry management offices with oversight and management of approximately 37,500 staff and approximately 151,000 inmates,” Carvajal’s government bio notes.

The Biden White House has, so far, made no public inclination to replace or consider replacing hundreds of Trump appointees such as Carvajal.

In the report, Horowitz focuses on the situation at the forced labor camp on the south-easternmost edge of the Lone Star State.

There, the DOJ OIG notes, the four inmates escaped using dummies and by having other inmates impersonate them while guards went on with their duties entirely unaware for over 12 hours.

The 5-page report notes the following details [emphasis added]:

The inmates were ultimately discovered missing during a stand-up count at 10:00 a.m. We found that the outer doors of separate buildings within the SPC at FCC Beaumont were unsecured in that they were unlocked, were unmanned, were not equipped with surveillance cameras, and had either nonfunctioning alarms or alarms that could be manipulated by inmates, even during times when inmates were not permitted to move freely within the SPC, such as during counts and at nighttime. In addition, we were told that inmates sometimes place dummies in their beds or physically place themselves in other inmate beds during inmate counts. We found that unsecured doors allow inmates to move freely within the SPC even when they were not permitted to do so and, thus, make it easier for them to both pose as other inmates during counts and escape from the SPC.

“We were told that as long as inmates return to their assigned building and bunk before the correctional officers conduct stand-up inmate counts, they can escape the SPC undetected,” the report continues.

None of the inmates or jailers in question were identified by name in the report. Nor were the number of dummies and real-life body doubles specified. The report also didn’t mention how inmates were able to construct full-on body-size dummies without the knowledge of prison staff or administration.

The inmates were finally discovered missing after a “morning count” of prisoners the day after they had escaped.

“The OIG has further found that the security risks identified above increase the risk that inmates will bring contraband into FPCs and SPCs,” the report notes. “We were told that two of the inmates who escaped the SPC at FCC Beaumont left the facility to obtain contraband.”

The DOJ OIG stopped short of assigning any kind of formal blame or suggesting any kind of sanction or punishment for the government agents who were duped by the escapees.

Horowitz explains the agency’s reasoning:

The OIG’s investigation at FCC Beaumont did not substantiate allegations that Correctional Officers violated policy, because (1) the evidence showed that the inmates who escaped may have had other inmates pose as them or placed dummies in their beds to deceive Correctional Officers during the nighttime counts; and (2) the evidence showed that the Correctional Officers likely complied with BOP and FCC Beaumont policy when conducting the nighttime counts.

Read the full report below:

[Images of Horowitz by Samuel Corum/Getty Images, Carvajal by Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images]

The post Bureau of Prisons Allowed Four Inmates to Escape Through the Use of Dummies and Body Doubles: DOJ Inspector General first appeared on Law & Crime.

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June 7, 2021 at 03:59PM

Epstein’s Jail Guards Avoid Prison  

Two jail guards who were on duty the night Jeffrey Epstein committed suicide are not going to prison under an agreement with U.S. prosecutors, reports Reuters. Tova Noel and Michael Thomas were accused of falling asleep and surfing the internet when they were supposed to be watching Epstein. With the new agreement, they would serve six months of supervised release, complete 100 community service hours and cooperate with the Department of Justice including circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death.

Prior to his death, Jeffrey Epstein, 66, pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking charges. He was found hanging in his cell on August 10, 2019 in downtown Manhattan. Noel and Thomas admitted to having “willfully and knowingly” filled out documents claiming they had conducted regular check-ins where Epstein was held. During Epstein’s final hours, Thomas looked up sports news and motorcycle sales, and Noel online shopped, both appearing to have taken naps according to prosecutors. Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, said the public deserves an accounting of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ failures. ” Epstein’s victims have been failed at every single turn,” Sasse said in a statement. “One hundred hours of community service is a joke–this isn’t traffic court.”

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May 24, 2021 at 10:14AM

Prisoners Released Under Trump May Have to Go Back to Prison

A last-minute move by officials in the administration of former President Donald Trump could force thousands of people who were released early from federal prison due to the pandemic to go back behind bars when the emergency is over, reports Mother Jones. Before the pandemic, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) typically released prisoners with 6 months or 10 percent of their sentences remaining to home confinement, placing them with their families or in halfway houses. The CARES Act allowed the BOP to expand the group of people eligible for home confinement. The idea was to protect older or medically vulnerable prisoners considered to be a low risk to the public, while making more space for social distancing inside prisons. Over the next 11 months, more than 21,300 federal prisoners were released to home confinement, at least 7,200 more than would have normally been eligible. An opinion published by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel five days before Trump left office says that once the COVID-19 emergency period ends, or once the attorney general finds it is no longer affecting the federal prison system, the BOP will be “required to recall” released prisoners who have not yet reached the six month or 10 percent threshold of time remaining on their sentences.

Despite the ongoing pandemic, “BOP must plan for an eventuality where it might need to return a significant number of prisoners to correctional facilities,” deputy assistant attorney general Jennifer Mascott wrote in the opinion. Currently, more than 7,700 federal prisoners are under home confinement, and releases are continuing. The threat of being returned to prison after COVID doesn’t just apply to federal prisoners on home confinement.

According to Insha Rahman, the vice president of advocacy and partnerships at the Vera Institute of Justice, some states, including Illinois, have used temporary furloughs to decrease prison and jail populations during the pandemic. “There’s a concurrent push at the state level to make sure that these provisions and fixes are in place, so that once the pandemic ends and executive authority is lifted in terms of the emergency measures, we’re not suddenly seeing our jails and prisons fill right back up,” Rahman says.

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February 8, 2021 at 10:04AM

Former Tallahassee Federal Correctional Officer Indicted For Sexual Abuse Of Multiple Inmates

A federal grand jury in Tallahassee has returned a three-count indictment charging a federal correctional officer with sexually abusing three inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee. Jimmy Lee Highsmith was charged with Sexual Abuse of a Ward. Lawrence Keefe, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida, announced the indictment, which was issued on February 2.

“The public places its trust in sworn law enforcement and correctional officers that they will represent the finest in our society, not the worst. Sadly, the charges contained in this indictment reflect the worst – an individual allegedly taking advantage of his position of trust to inflict harm on those under his care,” U.S. Attorney Keefe said.

Highsmith, 41, of Yazoo, Mississippi, was arrested last night by federal agents. His initial appearance will take place at 4:30 p.m. CST this afternoon at the Thad Cochran United States Courthouse in Jackson, Mississippi. Highsmith’s arraignment hearing is scheduled for February 17 at 1:30 p.m. EST before United States Magistrate Judge Fitzpatrick at the United States Courthouse in Tallahassee.

The indictment alleges that while employed as a U.S. Bureau of Prisons Correctional Officer at Federal Correctional Institution Tallahassee, Highsmith engaged in sexual acts with three inmates who were under his custodial, supervisory and disciplinary authority. The criminal conduct allegedly took place between March 2014 and September 2018. If convicted, Highsmith faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison and a maximum $250,000 fine, per count.

Assistant United States Attorneys David L. Goldberg and Lazaro P. Fields are prosecuting the case, which resulted from a long-term investigation by the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General.

An indictment is merely an allegation by a grand jury that a defendant has committed a violation of federal criminal law and is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida is one of 94 offices that serve as the nation’s principal litigators under the direction of the Attorney General. To access public court documents online, please visit the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida website.  For more information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Florida, visit http://www.justice.gov/usao/fln/index.html.

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February 4, 2021 at 04:38PM

Private Prison Firms Could Lose $1B Under New Biden Rules

CoreCivic and the GEO Group, two of the largest U.S. private prison companies, could lose as much as a quarter of their revenue, about $1 billion a year between them, under new limits on the sector from President Joe Biden, reports Reuters. Shares in GEO Group and CoreCivic took a hit on Tuesday after Biden signed an executive order to roll back the U.S. government’s use of private prisons, a part of what he called an initiative to tackle systemic racism. Shares of GEO and CoreCivic had already been walloped in the past year as COVID-19 restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border and capacity restrictions for health reasons kept facilities they operate for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) well below capacity.

Biden’s current order applies to the Justice Department’s federal contracts with private prisons, which would include facilities used by the Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Marshals Service, though the order did not specifically name those agencies. The order does not apply to the Department of Homeland Security and therefore not to ICE facilities. In 2019, CoreCivic earned 5 percent of its total revenue from its federal contracts with the Bureau of Prisons and 17 percent from the U.S. Marshals, or a total of about $440 million. Its largest customer in 2019 was ICE, accounting for 29 percent of business. At GEO Group, U.S. Marshals and Bureau of Prisons accounted for 23 percent of total revenue in 2019, or about $570 million. Neither prison company has raised money in public markets since 2019 and Biden’s new order could increase credit risks, making it harder for either company to refinance debt.

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January 27, 2021 at 11:18AM

Pathologist Suspects Homicide in Epstein Death

Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist hired by Jeffrey Epstein’s family, believes Epstein’s autopsy suggests homicide rather than suicide. New York City’s chief medical examiner stands by her conclusion that Epstein died by hanging himself, reports NPR. Baden, who was briefly the chief New York City medical examiner in the 1970s before becoming a celebrity forensic witness, has weighed in on scores of high-profile cases. He told Fox News the evidence points to homicide rather than suicide in Epstein’s death because of three fractures of Epstein’s hyoid bone and thyroid cartilage, injuries he says are more indicative of homicidal strangulation than suicide.

Epstein’s brother, Mark, “feels he’s getting the runaround” from authorities and is awaiting the results of other evidence testing, Baden said. New York City Chief Medical Examiner Barbara Sampson, whose office performed the autopsy, reiterated her findings. “Our investigation concluded that the cause of Mr. Epstein’s death was hanging and the manner of death was suicide,” Sampson said, adding that, “The original medical investigation was thorough and complete. There is no reason for a second medical investigation by our office.” Federal prosecutors had charged 66-year-old Epstein with the sex trafficking of minors and paying victims to recruit other underage girls. Epstein died in jail while awaiting trial, and his accusers are pursuing civil cases against his estate. Conspiracy theories have swirled since Epstein’s death. Guards had not checked on Epstein for several hours before he was found unresponsive. The disgraced financier had been moved off of suicide watch and did not have a cellmate.

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October 31, 2019 at 08:47AM

Federal corrections officer in Miami accepted money for bribes, feds say

A federal corrections officer has been charged after accepting bribes from South Florida prisoners, prosecutors said Friday.

Victor DeJesus, 47, was arrested and charged with bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery.

A 14-count indictment filed in Miami federal court alleges DeJesus accepted money in exchange for providing contraband to inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution.

According to the indictment, prisoners and those acting on their behalf supplied DeJesus with bribe payments from at least as early as December 2018 through September 2019.

DeJesus is alleged to have deposited the money into his personal bank account.

In exchange for the bribe payments, the indictment alleges, DeJesus brought prohibited items into the prison. The indictment goes on to say DeJesus had inmate co-conspirators distribute the contraband.

The Federal Correctional Institution in Miami is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

DeJesus was scheduled to appear before a U.S. magistrate Friday afternoon.

Copyright 2019 by WPLG Local10.com – All rights reserved.

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October 11, 2019 at 11:33AM

Officer Who Guarded El Chapo’s Wife Is Accused of Dealing Drugs

CreditCreditMark Lennihan/Associated Press

By  Sept. 19, 2019

A New York City officer named Ishmael Bailey had an off-duty job as a bodyguard this year for the wife of one of the most notorious defendants to step inside a courthouse — Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo.

Officer Bailey had a front-row seat as federal prosecutors unspooled Mr. Guzmán’s long career shipping hundreds of tons of cocaine to the United States and orchestrating the deaths of dozens of people to protect his vast operation.

On Wednesday, Officer Bailey was back in a courtroom, this time as a defendant.

Officer Bailey was accused by prosecutors in Queens of moonlighting as a bodyguard for people he believed to be drug dealers and of selling illegal drugs, according to a criminal complaint. Officer Bailey, who became an officer 12 years ago, was suspended without pay.

Karlton Jarrett, an assistant Queens district attorney, said in court on Wednesday that Officer Bailey had worked off-duty jobs, including as an “escort security” for Mr. Guzmán’s wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro.

“It was one day — three minutes walking her to the courthouse and three minutes walking her back to the vehicle,” Ms. Colon Miro said. “It’s very unfortunate.”

Officer Bailey’s lawyer, Jeff Cohen, said his client’s side job providing security for Ms. Aispuro “is irrelevant to the charges.” His client entered a plea of not guilty and intends to fight the charges, Mr. Cohen said.

“We have a lot of investigation to do,” he said.

The accusations against the officer involve wrongdoing that occurred long after the trial of Mr. Guzmán ended and are not related to the Mexican drug cartel he controlled.

The acting Queens district attorney, John Ryan, said Officer Bailey had betrayed his oath of office.

“Today, sadly, he is accused of taking part in an illicit drug operation,” Mr. Ryan said in a statement. “This kind of malfeasance will not be tolerated.”

New York’s police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, also expressed his dismay.

“There is no place for corruption within the N.Y.P.D.,” Mr. O’Neill said. “When an individual officer intentionally tarnishes the shield worn proudly by thousands before him, he will be held to the highest account the law provides.”

Brian O’Neill, center, an assistant chief of internal affairs for the New York Police Department, discussed the case against Officer Bailey on Thursday.
CreditJefferson Siegel for The New York Times

Officer Bailey had worked briefly for a company that provided transportation for Ms. Aispuro, the police said. Officers often work second jobs, but the department would not say if it knew at the time that Officer Bailey had arranged to work for Ms. Aispuro.

The department also did not respond to specific questions about its vetting policies regarding officers’ seeking to work second jobs.

According to a Police Department patrol guide, an officer must file an application with details about the second employer’s name and assignments, which is later approved by more than one supervisor.

The investigation of Officer Bailey began in July after his commanding officer raised concerns about him, according to Assistant Chief Brian O’Neill, the executive officer of the Internal Affairs Bureau. Chief O’Neill would not say what those concerns were.

According to the criminal complaint, Officer Bailey, 36, agreed to act as a
security guard and to transport and sell cocaine from late August to mid-
September.

On Aug. 27, Officer Bailey first agreed to act as a security guard for a drug dealer who turned out to be an undercover police officer.

Officer Bailey met with the same undercover agent on Sept. 4 in Astoria, Queens, and held open a duffel bag while three packages — one of them containing cocaine and the other two material meant to look like cocaine — were placed in the bag, the complaint said.

Officer Bailey was paid $2,500 to take the bag to a parking lot and give it to a man who was also an undercover police officer. Later, Officer Bailey again offered security services to the first undercover officer, and he was paid $10,000 to pick up two kilograms of cocaine, according to the complaint.

Officer Bailey faces a host of charges including first-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, first-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, second-degree conspiracy, second-degree bribe receiving and official misconduct, officials said.

Officer Bailey’s brother Joshua Bailey, 34, said his family was in disbelief over the accusations. He described the officer as a dedicated member of the force and a father of two.

“He’s a good man, a good father,” Mr. Bailey said. “I can’t believe this.”

Ashley Southall contributed reporting.

Edgar Sandoval is a metro reporter covering crime, courts and general assignments.  @edjsandoval