Derek W. Logue of OnceFallen.com and Douglas Plate.
Across the country, we have seen prisons and local jails release numerous prisoners due to COVID-19, but people accused or convicted of sex offenses as well as those detained for “Failure To Register” (FTR) cases have been largely excluded from early release consideration.
Republican Ohio Governor (and former Ohio Attorney General) Mike Dewine told reporters in April, “We’re not looking to release every inmate scheduled to be released in the next 90 days, rather we’re talking about specific cases that fit very specific criteria. We will not be sending murderers, sex offenders, and the like home early.” So far, Ohio has only considered 141 of roughly 49,000 prisoners for early release.
The federal system has far more extensive than Ohio, yet has released only slightly more inmates. An April 25, 2020 Marshall Project article reported, “in the three weeks after Barr’s urgent April 3 memo, the Federal Bureau of Prison’s results are modest: the number of people allowed to serve the rest of their sentence in home confinement went up by only 1,027 under the new guidance set out by the attorney general—about half of 1 percent of the more than 174,000 people in the bureau’s custody at the start of the month, according to data obtained from the agency and Congress.”
Prisons and jails can become prime breeding grounds for viral outbreaks. It is impossible to practice social distancing when many prisons are dormitory settings due to overcrowding, and double bunks are placed a mere yard apart from one another. Even in facilities with cells, nearly all prisoners are double-bunked. While visitation has been canceled to prevent the spread of COVID-19, guards and staff still go out into the free world and bring the virus to the prisons. Prisoners are fed poor quality food and lived in cramped and unsanitary conditions. Dozens or even hundreds of inmates living in dormitory pods must share the same three to six toilets provided, and both the bathrooms and showers are often in open areas in the same area as the sleeping quarters.
COVID-19 is notoriously difficult to track because it takes upwards to 2 weeks for anyone contacting it to notice any symptoms. Testing has not been perfected, nor is regular testing available. ABC News reported on May 1, 2020 that, “The Bureau of Prisons on Friday said that 70% of the inmates the Bureau has tested have come back positive for COVID-19. But the Bureau says that it doesn’t reflect the positive rate across the entire BOP system which houses 146,000 prisoners in 122 facilities. The BOP says they’ve tested ‘roughly 2,700 inmates’.” That is only about 1.85% of the total prisoner population.
This is a great concern to Douglas Plate, a federal prisoner serving time for possession of CP. Below is an essay I asked him to write about the conditions within the federal prison system and his concerns as a person convicted of a sex offense. (I have only edited any typos or grammar errors.)
“There has been some discussion by U.S. Attorney General Barr regarding release of elderly, non-violent offenders as part of the DOJ response to the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic. I couldn’t help but notice those convicted of sex offenses were specifically omitted regardless of the age or their offense. This means someone like me, a first time, non-violent/non-contact offender, charged with receipt and possession of CP; sentenced to 60 months incarceration at a low security institution; minimal chance of recidivism; and with a negative score on the BoP PATTERN tool, am possibly looking at this charge becoming a capital offense. My big question is – Why are ‘sex offenders’ always measured as a group? BoP has assessed that as an individual I’m not a threat to anyone and also have a minimum chance of recidivism. Yet when it comes to any sort of benefit, be it now or under the First Step Act, I automatically fall into the SO group and receive no allowance or consideration of me, as a person.
Sex Offense crimes seem to be the only crimes that are allowed to be grouped, with everyone being treated the same regardless of your crime of arrest. Murderers aren’t all compared to the crimes of Charles Manson, fraudsters aren’t all lumped together with Bernie Madoff, and those accused of domestic terrorism aren’t associated with Tsarnaev or Timothy McVeigh. Each of the criminals associated with these crimes are all assessed as an individual, judged on the merits of their crime and sentenced based on individual merit. Everyone labeled ‘sex offender’, whether convicted as a predator or a computer based crime, is being treated with the harshest penalties our federal/state/local governments can pass and enforce regardless of the constitutionality. Truthfully, the predator may serve a harsher sentence, but once released, he/she and I are subject to exactly the same conditions.
We always speak about the draconian laws, but isn’t this a case that is worse than the Salem witch hunts? The accused were at least given a trial prior to being put to death, but we had our trial, and now we get to sit by and wait for the grim reaper to come knocking on the BoP door. A possible death sentence because we were viewing pictures on a computer. Right now, I have neither recourse nor options for early release. I’m 59 years old and just hope that I don’t contract the virus. If I do, I hope that I’m healthy enough to overcome the illness. As we all know by now, COVID-19 is no joke. It doesn’t show prejudice towards its victims and has demonstrated that it’s an indiscriminant killer. No matter rich, poor, famous, or commoner, the Corona virus can be deadly. I recently saw an item in the newspaper from a healthy 39 year old male. He had immediate access to medical staff with his father an emergency room physician and his mother a pediatrician. He said once he contracted the Coronavirus, it was like being hit by a bus and having that bus rest on your chest – for a week. He had no pre-existing conditions, but he too almost became a part of that growing statistic. We all know BoP medical is basically non-existent and there’s currently no cure for COVID-19. Little did I realize that a lapse of judgment in 2015 could result in a death sentence today. Where do I file an appeal?
From 1981 until my arraignment in early 2016, I worked for the Department of Defense (DoD), first as active duty member of the U.S. Air Force and then as a DoD civilian. During those 35 years, I was deployed or stationed at a variety of locations in Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Prior to, and during those deployments, we were always provided with adequate medical care in order to not succumb to the variety of dangerous/deadly diseases prevalent in certain countries. I supported these deployments without question, following the orders from the President and/or our elected representatives. I feel it also important to note, that in those three plus decades, I had never received a single disciplinary report or infraction. I wasn’t someone who simply got away with bad behavior without getting caught. Admittedly, I am where I am today through poor judgment, but I find it ironic that the same elected officials whom I supported while furthering the causes of the U.S. government, are now willing to let myself, and countless others with similar charges, possibly succumb to the pandemic while remaining in custody of the DoJ/BoP for viewing pictures on a computer.
Reason and logic behind decisions made by BoP/DoJ, and our elected officials in DC continues to confound/confuse me. I, charged with a non-contact computer based SO crime am determined to be a threat to public safety, and thus ineligible for any sort of consideration for early release under the CARES act. And yet, a former inmate from here (Coleman Low) who was transferred to Ft. Dix last year, either has been released or has been identified for release, 9 years off his sentence because he is at risk for COVID-19 (found to be HIV positive after he became “gay” in prison). As I understand it, his original charge had to do with dealing heroin, some of it tainted and it killed one of his customers. Was his a victimless crime? I think the family of the deceased would think not. Non-violent? Hard to say, but usually death from overdoses and poison isn’t that peaceful (at least on TV). And he’s at risk, because of a lifestyle he chose once he was sentenced to a lengthy prison term.
I viewed pictures on a computer…Not to trivialize the crime, but I didn’t commission the photos, didn’t buy, sell, or trade them; I never contacted another individual; I only accessed through GOOGLE Images. But simply because I’m a Tier 1 SO, I receive no consideration at all? Truly a mystery as to how the American public thinks.”
Mr. Plate has a good reason to be concerned. On April 7, 2020, 64-year-old prisoner Alan Pollack died in Broward County FL, who was detained on FTR charges. In Miami’s metro West Jail, where 163 of 487 tested inmates were positive for COVID-19, Charles Hobbs, also detained on an FTR stemming from a lone 1998 offense, died from COVID-19 on April 28, 2020. Both men are still listed on Florida’s Sex Offense Registry.