March 31, 2020

COVID-19 Stimulus Bill Includes More than $1B for Criminal Justice Needs

This story was originally published in the ABA Journal here on March 26, 2020.

Updated: The $2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill passed by the Senate on Wednesday includes more than $1 billion for criminal justice needs, including protective gear for prisons and teleconferencing equipment for the federal judiciary.

Roll Call and Law360 have stories on the bill, which goes next to the House of Representatives. The bill includes:

• $1 billion for the U.S. Justice Department, $850 million of which would provide grants for state and local governments for criminal justice needs. Those needs may include overtime costs, personal protective equipment and medical costs.

Another $100 million would go to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons for protective equipment, supplies, medical care and overtime. Other money would help cover the costs of bringing home law enforcement personnel stationed overseas and enhancing telework capabilities.

• $7.5 million for the federal judiciary. The money includes $500,000 for the U.S. Supreme Court to enhance telework capabilities, $6 million for federal courts to increase telework capabilities and cover higher costs of pretrial and probation services, and $1 million for U.S. Defender Services to expand remote work capacity.

About $4.5 million of the federal judiciary funds would cover individual mental health and drug treatment for defendants who typically receive the probation and pretrial services in a group setting, according to prior coverage.

• $50 million for the Legal Services Corp. to address the increased need for legal services due to the novel coronavirus. The LSC had estimated it needed an additional $100 million.

ABA President Judy Perry Martinez had supported extra money for the LSC, saying it is needed to help clients facing unexpected job loss, housing issues, domestic violence and health care-related crises.

The bill would also:

• Temporarily allow more video and audio conferences in several federal court settings, including detention hearings, initial appearances, preliminary hearings, arraignments, and misdemeanor pleas and sentencings, according to Law360.

Felony pleas and sentencings also could be held remotely if they “cannot be further delayed without serious harm to the interests of justice.”

• Authorize the Justice Department to extend temporarily the time cap on home confinement, according to Roll Call. Currently the cap is six months or 10% of the inmate’s sentence, whichever is shorter.

• Allow the Bureau of Prisons to quickly create new rules to allow free video and telephone visitations with inmates.

The House passed the stimulus bill Friday, the Washington Post reports. President Donald Trump signed the bill the same day.

ABA President Judy Perry Martinez on Friday released this statement about the stimulus package:

“Prisons and jails are some of the highest-risk environments for the spread of COVID-19. The ABA is encouraged that the COVID-19 economic stimulus package approved by Congress includes provisions to allow prisons greater access to personal protective equipment and COVID-19 testing materials. The ABA is further encouraged by the bill’s provisions that expand use of home detention and electronic monitoring. The availability of these alternatives to incarceration should be considered particularly for individuals whose cases are still pending.

“The ABA is disappointed the bill fails to include provisions to increase access to release for older and infirm prisoners, but commends a separate action taken by the Department of Justice which directs federal prison authorities to identify elderly and medically compromised inmates for home confinement.

“The ABA also applauds state and local prosecutors, courts, law enforcement officers and corrections officers who are seeking practical alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, especially during this national emergency.”

Updated March 27 at 1:30 p.m. to include information on House passage and Martinez’s statement.