The Bureau of Prisons is attempting to follow the Attorney General’s directive to reduce the prison population in response to COVID-19. Officials are scouring records in an attempt to find those who are worthy of home confinement. They are using certain risk factors as their criteria. Just today, it has been reported that in their effort to set more free amid lawsuits and public scrutiny, they are now looking at those who have served less than half of their original sentence.
They are not considering anyone accused of a computer sex crime (even though sex crimes have one of the lowest recidivism rates). Any person, who looked at or downloaded an illegal image is deemed ineligible for home confinement. In fact, they are considered violent criminals (which is a seriously biased definition of the term “violent”). They do not take into account that many inmates with these charges have served exceptionally long, overly punitive sentences; a fact that many in the criminal justice world will admit. Even the United States Sentencing Commission has addressed the issue of overly harsh sentencing due to the fact that these guidelines were set up before the prevalence of computers in our society.
Now, once again, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the BOP is playing on the fears and ignorance of the public. Their decision is resulting in the deaths of people who deserve better from our government. I am begging you not to turn already harsh sentences into death sentences.
The most recent inmate to die from Oakdale was George Jeffus. He was serving time for child pornography related charges. He was elderly, 76 years old and had health issues. He had already served the majority of his sentence. He was the absolute perfect candidate for consideration. Clearly, he was at high risk for COVID-19 and met all the criteria. And yet, by a warped, out-of-date, cruel or ignorant policy, he was deemed too dangerous to be considered or to be saved. By BOP standards, his life was apparently not worth saving. Did some pictures that this gentleman looked at years ago really warrant putting him to death now? No one would answer in the affirmative to that question and yet, that is exactly what happened.
There are men, right now, in all our prisons, first time offenders who looked at the wrong thing on their computers. Images they absolutely should never have viewed but do not as a result deserve a death sentence. Many men, like George Jeffus have been behind bars for over a decade. Many men have only a few years left to serve. Many men have grave health issues. And these men are being ignored for participation in this program. Why? Why? Why? Please do not allow others to suffer the fate of Mr. Jeffus
An inmate who knew Mr. Jeffus wrote the following about him:
“I just wanted to say a few things about the last inmate to die here at Oakdale. He lived 7 cells down from me. I read the press release and it just said his age and his charges which always sound worse than they actually are. George Jeffus always had a good attitude and a good word for you. He had a daughter that sent him car magazines that he liked. I shared them with him too. He was a veteran who served in Germany in the sixties, the same time as my father. He liked football and always asked me about the Vols because I am from Tennessee. He didn’t have that much time left here and HE DIDN’T DESERVE TO DIE IN PRISON. It just has weighed on my mind when I read that little thing about his life”.
It is time we all rethink the punitive nature of our society and of our Judicial system. Every single inmate behind those walls has value. They have families that love them and stand beside them no matter what they have done….because that is what families do. EVERYONE deserves a second chance in life. NO ONE deserves to die at the hands of a fearful, ignorant, misguided or willfully brutal system of justice. It is an absolute mandate to protect these inmates and save their lives – not to destroy or end those lives.
Laurie Draper Jones (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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