FreedomWorks is proud to announce that our bill of the month for April 2020 is the bill to correct the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program, H.R. 4018. This bipartisan bill, cosponsored by Republican Reps. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), and Greg Murphy (R-N.C.), alongside lead Democrat sponsor Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), would fix a technical issue related to the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program that was created under the First Step Act, namely by including good time credits in the calculation for early transfer into home confinement for elderly, nonviolent, low-risk inmates. This is especially critical during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program allows nonviolent prisoners who are 60 years of age or older and have served two-thirds or more of their sentences to be transferred into home confinement. This is a more cost-effective means of handling elderly prisoners, who will also, as a result, have access to better medical care. Elderly individuals inside the prison system require more healthcare services, which drives up the costs to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and thus also to taxpayers. Elderly inmates are also considered high-risk for contracting — and subsequently for spreading — the coronavirus.
Just this Tuesday, President Trump declared April 2020 “Second Chance Month.” In his proclamation, he writes, “It is therefore important that we offer former inmates who have served their sentences and learned from their earlier mistakes the opportunity for redemption through a second chance.” This rings even more true during the current crisis, as a “second chance” in the current context means a fighting chance at life — Not only for those to be released, but for those all around them both inside and outside of prison.
Leaving elderly inmates incarcerated unnecessarily poses a significant health risk both inside and outside of prisons. As former U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman and U.S. Justice Action Network Executive Director Holly Harris explain, “America’s prisons are home to many people over 60 years of age, men and women who pose little threat on the outside but are facing a great threat inside. They are more likely to contract coronavirus, to become seriously ill and to die. Along the way, they may pass that illness along to correctional officers, medical professionals and other incarcerated people. From there, it will spread to surrounding communities.”
As stated, H.R. 4018 would simply provide for existing good time credits to be factored into the determination for eligibility for the program, allowing many of the lowest-risk individuals who have built up good time credits for exemplary behavior to qualify for home confinement sooner.
Especially during Second Chance Month, we must not ignore those who are incarcerated. Again, not only for their sake, but for the sake of our communities outside of prison walls, too. Fortunately, H.R. 4018 already passed the House by a unanimous voice vote in December 2019. Unfortunately, the bill has since been stalled in the Senate.
Recently, FreedomWorks signed, along with nearly 50 organizations from across the ideological spectrum, a letter that was sent to Senate leadership asking for the bill to be advanced. “[A]ccording to BOP data, inmates age 50 and older were the fastest growing segment of its inmate population, increasing 25 percent from 24,857 in fiscal year (FY) 2009 to 30,962 in FY 2013,” the letter states. “This population—already one of the most vulnerable to COVID-19—faces far greater risks in the densely overpopulated and understaffed prison environment. The human cost would be reprehensible.”
Now, when it is clearly more urgent than ever, Congress should act on H.R. 4018 to reduce risk inside and outside of prisons, ensuring that the coronavirus’ spread is being stifled, not being inadvertently helped, by the federal government’s incarceration policies. FreedomWorks appreciates the work of all of the members of Congress and advocates who are imploring others to enact H.R. 4018 into law. We are proud to count ourselves among those and are optimistic in seeing our April 2020 bill of the month become law before Second Chance Month comes to pass.