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Reps. Nadler, Armstrong, Jackson Lee & Deutch Introduce COVID-19 Safer Detention Act of 2021

Washington, D.C. - Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Representatives Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Ted Deutch (D-FL) introduced the COVID-19 Safer Detention Act of 2021 to reform the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program and compassionate release from federal prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA). 

"I’m proud to introduce the COVID-19 Safer Detention Act, which would ensure that elder and vulnerable prisoners are released or transferred to home confinement for the remainder of their sentence during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Chairman Nadler. "This legislation, which expands upon programs already supported by previous bipartisan measures enacted by Congress, is especially critical as we work to put this pandemic behind us once and for all. I thank Representatives Armstrong, Jackson Lee, and Deutch for joining me in this bipartisan effort to prevent further COVID-19 outbreaks in our federal prisons."

"There is bipartisan agreement that we need commonsense home confinement and early release programs," said Rep. Armstrong. "Our legislation will take the important step of clarifying and expanding existing compassionate release policies, ensuring that eligible non-violent prisoners have access to these programs as they reintegrate into society."

"The pandemic has been a deadly public health crisis for every segment of our society, including incarcerated individuals,"  said Rep. Jackson Lee, Chair of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. "This bipartisan legislation is needed to ensure that the most vulnerable and elderly individuals in federal prison can be considered for home confinement or release, as appropriate. We can and must make our system more just, and this bill is an important part of broad criminal justice reform."

"Elderly prisoners are among the most vulnerable populations in prisons," said Rep. Deutch. "This bipartisan bill makes important clarifications to existing prisoner programs and includes my legislation to allow prisoners to use their good time credit when seeking to transition to home confinement for the remainder of their sentence. Not only is this bill the humane thing to do and will protect prisoners, staff, and surrounding communities from COVID-19 outbreaks, but it will also reduce federal costs in our prison system."

The COVID-19 Safer Detention Act would reform the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program and compassionate release by:

  • Clarifying that the percentage of time served required for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program should be calculated based on an inmate’s sentence, including “good time” credits earned through good behavior in prison (building upon H.R. 4018, which passed the House by voice vote last Congress); 
  • Expanding the eligibility criteria for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program to include nonviolent offenders who have served at least 50% of their prison sentence;
  • Clarifying that elderly, nonviolent offenders who violated D.C. law are eligible for the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program and that federal prisoners sentenced before November 1, 1987 are eligible for compassionate release;
  • Subjecting elderly home detention eligibility decisions to judicial review (applying the First Step Act’s criteria for compassionate release determinations);
  • Providing that, during the period that the Federal Bureau of Prison operations are impacted by the pandemic, COVID-19 vulnerability can be considered as a basis for compassionate release; and
  • Reducing the period prisoners must wait for judicial review for elderly home detention and compassionate release from 30 to 10 days.

The COVID-19 Safer Detention Act is endorsed by: Americans for Prosperity, Drug Policy Alliance, Due Process Institute, Faith & Freedom Coalition, FAMM, Federal Public and Community Defenders, FreedomWorks, Innocence Project, Justice Action Network, Law Enforcement Leaders, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), Prison Fellowship, Right on Crime, Sentencing Project, Taking Action For Good, Tzedek Association, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, ACLU, Americans for Tax Reform, Dream Corps JUSTICE, and Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. 

Full text of the legislation is available here.
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