Among those pleading for compassionate release or home detention are the former head of the Cali drug cartel, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff and dozens of inmates at New York City’s Rikers Island, part of a jail system that lost an employee to the virus this week.
“He is in poor health. He is 81 years old,” David Oscar Markus, the lawyer for cocaine kingpin Gilberto Rodriguez-Orejuela, wrote in emergency court papers this week seeking his release after serving about half of a 30-year drug-trafficking sentence.
“When (not if) COVID-19 hits his prison, he will not have much of a chance.”
Stepped-up cleanings and a temporary halt to visitations at many lockups across the country in the midst of the crisis can’t make up for the fact that ventilation behind bars is often poor, inmates sleep in close quarters and share a small number of bathrooms.
The 81-year-old Madoff, who is serving a 150-year sentence for bilking thousands of investors in a USD$17.5 billion Ponzi scheme, had just asked last month to be released early in light of his terminal kidney disease. Now his lawyer is calling on all at-risk federal prisoners to be released for their own safety because of the coronavirus.
“The federal prison system has consistently shown an inability to respond to major crises,” Madoff lawyer Brandon Sample told The Associated Press.
“My concerns are even more amplified for prisoners at federal medical centres and those who are aged.”
As of Wednesday, two federal Bureau of Prisons staff members have tested positive for coronavirus, a person familiar with the matter told the AP. One of the staffers works in a correctional facility in Berlin, New Hampshire, and the other works in an office in Grand Prairie, Texas, but there were still no confirmed cases among any of the 175,000 inmates in the BOP system, the person said.
The person, who wasn’t authorised to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity, would not say how many inmates, if any, have been tested for coronavirus.
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