Michael Cohen, who is roughly halfway through his three-year prison sentence, is pending release to home confinement amid the growing threat of the coronavirus, according to CNN. Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer, pled guilty in November of 2018 to eight federal charges, including tax fraud, campaign finance violation, and lying to Congress.
On March 24, The Hill reported that Michael Cohen’s plea for early prison release amid the coronavirus had been rejected. U.S. Attorney General William Barr has since directed the Bureau of Prisons to begin thinning out the federal prison population to prevent the spread of coronavirus. On April 3, Barr released a memo directing the Bureau of Prisons to “prioritize the use of home confinement as a tool for combatting the dangers of COVID-19.” Facilities where COVID-19 is “materially affecting operations” were given priority.
In the memo, Barr named facilities at FCI Oakdale, FCI Danbury, and FCI Elkton. At least seven inmates have died at Oakdale, and another six have died at Elkton. At Otisville, New York, where Cohen is serving time, there have been fourteen confirmed cases among inmates and another seven confirmed cases among staff.
In An Open Letter on March 18, The ACLU Urged the Bureau of Prisons to Reduce the Federal Prison Population
“BOP must act in conjunction with U.S. Attorneys and the recommendations of public health professionals to release those most vulnerable to coronavirus and to diminish intake of others to reduce overcrowding,” the letter reads. “Any delay will only serve to exacerbate the circumstances with possible fatal consequences.”
The ACLU has filed 16 lawsuits to address the coronavirus in prisons and jails. “Detention should not be a death sentence,” writes Legal Director David Cole, “and most prisons, jails, and detention centers cannot ensure that those in their charge are held under the social distancing guidelines the CDC urges all of us to follow.”
As of April 16, the Bureau of Prisons has 172,349 federal inmates at 122 facilities, 473 of which have confirmed cases of coronavirus. Another 279 staff members have also been confirmed positive, and 18 federal inmates have died.
According to data from the Prison Policy Initiative, inmates in federal prisons make up only a small percentage of the nearly 2.3 million people incarcerated in America. Michael Cohen’s pending release represents one possible success in the effort to release prisoners to home confinement and stymie the tide of coronavirus through our prison system.