REPS LIEU AND JEFFRIES CALL FOR INVESTIGATION INTO INADEQUATE INMATE RELEASES IN LIGHT OF COVID-19

May 14, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON - Today, Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D-Los Angeles County) and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) sent a letter to inspector General Mike Horowitz calling for an investigation into the Justice Department and BOP’s inadequate and discriminatory response to the Covid-19 outbreaks at our prisons. This letter comes after former Trump campaign staffer Paul Manafort was put allowed to be moved to home confinement while countless inmates have not been allowed similar precautions in light of the pandemic.

In the letter, the Members write:

Dear Inspector General Horowitz: 

Thank you for your public service. As Members of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, we are appalled by the failure of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to adequately address the epidemic of Covid-19 infections at federal correctional facilities. Multiple incarcerated individuals have already died from the virus. We are also outraged by the disparate treatment shown to an inmate who happens to be the President’s former campaign chairman and friend, Paul Manafort. He was released to home confinement while many other inmates who are at risk of becoming infected with coronavirus, or who have been infected have not been released despite the expanded home confinement authority granted to the Justice Department by the CARES Act. We request an immediate investigation into the Justice Department and BOP’s inadequate and discriminatory response to the Covid-19 outbreaks at our prisons. 

According to multiple reports, Mr. Manafort was released to home confinement on May 13, even though the pandemic had not yet affected the low-security prison in which he was held. On the other hand, there are federal facilities where incarcerated individuals with serious health concerns continue to seek release to home confinement. One such example is the low-security Terminal Island prison in Southern California where nearly 70 percent of the inmates have been infected with Covid-19 and 7 have died. The 7th inmate who died at Terminal Island from Covid-19, Scott Douglas Cutting, Sr., was in prison for assisting in the preparation of false tax returns. He was 70. Mr. Manafort’s crimes were objectively more serious: multiple convictions in two criminal cases for defrauding banks and taxpayers out of millions of dollars; illicit lobbying; and witness tampering. Mr. Manafort is 71. 

Mr. Cutting is dead while Mr. Manafort is now at home. Incarcerated individuals who are well-connected to the President should not receive priority over other inmates who lack those connections. We believe this is just one example of the disparate treatment happening throughout the federal prison system. There are numerous facilities with high rates of Covid-19 infections where the inmates still have not been released to home confinement, yet somehow Mr. Manafort gets special treatment to be released despite his facility having little to no known Covid-19 cases. 

We believe the inadequate and discriminatory response by the Justice Department and BOP to Covid-19 outbreaks violates the Constitution. Keeping incarcerated individuals in facilities where high percentages of the prisoners are infected with a highly contagious, life threatening virus constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Showing disparate treatment to the President’s friend while keeping other inmates who are at risk of becoming sick, or already are sick, constitutes a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. 

This outrageous, unconstitutional behavior by the Justice Department and BOP must stop. Lives are at stake. We respectfully request an immediate investigation. Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. 

Sincerely, 

 

 Ted W. Lieu      Hakeem Jeffries 

###