Daniel Brown has sought his release at least five times during his 14 years behind bars. Now the coronavirus pandemic might offer him his greatest chance at freedom.
A federal judge in Iowa, where Mr. Brown was originally convicted on methamphetamine and gun charges, has agreed to reconsider his request for compassionate release—under which inmates can be immediately freed due to extraordinary circumstances—as the deadly virus sweeps through the nation’s lockups, steadily infecting more prisoners and guards.
“It took a global pandemic for the doors to open,” Mr. Brown said in a phone interview from FCI Williamsburg in Salters, S.C., where he is serving a sentence of more than four decades. “Everyone gets the virus when it starts to spread in here because we can’t get away from each other.”
The federal Bureau of Prisons has begun freeing more than 1,000 inmates to home confinement under separate guidelines issued by Attorney General William Barr. But some lawmakers of both parties are encouraging the Justice Department to make greater use of compassionate release as another tool to ease overcrowding and stem the virus’s spread.
Changes to federal sentencing laws in 2018 mean prisoners can now ask a judge directly for compassionate release if the Bureau of Prisons denies their request or fails to respond. The bureau said it didn’t have a readily available tally of how many people had been granted compassionate release due to coronavirus concerns.
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