States Release Some Inmates As Coronavirus Spreads in Prisons Across the U.S.
- Coronavirus outbreaks are spreading in jails and prisons across America.
- Multiple states and federal prisons have reported cases, the worst of which are in New York City, where 52 inmates and 30 staffers have tested positive.
- At least a dozen states are releasing prisoners, but advocates and lawmakers say not enough is being done at the federal level, and are calling on the Trump administration to act.
Coronavirus Spreads in Jails and Prisons
Concerns over the growing threat of coronavirus outbreaks among incarcerated populations have increased in the last week as confirmed cases appeared in jails and prisons all over the country.
Multiple states are reporting that both inmates and staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus, including Texas, Florida, New Jersey, and South Dakota.
In South Dakota specifically, nine inmates broke out of a jail after a case was confirmed. All of the inmates have reportedly been returned.
Several facilities in California have also reported cases, prompting Gov. Gavin Newsom to stop state prison intake and transfers for 30 days.
The place hit the hardest by far is New York City, where it was reported Tuesday that 52 inmates and 30 staffers in multiple jails tested positive.
On Saturday, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) confirmed that the first federal inmate had the coronavirus. According to their website, a total of three inmates and three workers have now tested positive.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) also reported the first coronavirus case at a migrant detention facility on Tuesday.
At least a dozen states have responded to the growing crisis by releasing hundreds of inmates.
New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio said Tuesday that he will release 300 prisoners in the city and is looking to raise that number to 1,000. The biggest effort so far seems to be New Jersey, where around 1,000 prisoners are set to be released after the state’s chief justice signed an order Sunday.
Meanwhile, other facilities have taken efforts to limit interaction by stopping non-medical visits, restricting inmate activities, and taking other precautions.
At the federal level, the BOP announced Tuesday that it was imposing a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all new inmates going into any of its facilities.
Push For Increased Federal Effort
But many lawmakers and advocacy groups feel that these efforts will fall short, and are calling on President Donald Trump and his administration to act.
On Monday a bipartisan group of 14 senators wrote a letter to Attorney General William Barr and BOP Director Michael Carvajal urging them to release vulnerable inmates or transfer them to home confinement.
The Department of Justice (DOJ), for its part, has asked Congress for the ability to release low-risk offenders to home confinement amid the pandemic.
At the same time, the DOJ also asked Congress to give Barr the power to detain people indefinitely while they wait trials and hearings delayed because of the virus, a move that would keep inmates in custody longer.
Separately, nine advocacy groups wrote a letter to President Trump Tuesday, calling on him to use his clemency power to commute the sentences of inmates that are at high risk from the virus and those eligible for compassionate release.
When asked during a press conference on Sunday if he is considering an executive order to free elderly nonviolent offenders from federal prison, Trump seemed to be open to the idea.
“We have been asked about that and we’re going to take a look at it,” he said.
“It’s a bit of a problem. But when we talk about totally nonviolent — we’re talking about these are ‘totally nonviolent prisoners.’ We are actually looking at that, yes.”
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Washington Post) (The New York Post)
Survey and Census Data Shows Record Number of Americans are Struggling Financially
Americans are choosing not to pursue medical treatment more and more frequently as they encounter money troubles.
A recent federal survey shows that a record number of Americans were worse off financially in 2022 than a year prior.
Coupled with recent census data showing pervasive poverty across much of the country, Americans are forced to make difficult decisions, like foregoing expensive healthcare.
According to a recent Federal Reserve Bureau survey, 35% of adults say they were worse off in 2022 than 2021, which is the highest share ever recorded since the question was raised in 2014.
Additionally, half of adults reported their budget was majorly affected by rising prices across the country, and that number is even higher among minority communities and parents living with their children.
According to recent census data, more than 10% of the counties in the U.S. are experiencing persistent poverty, meaning the area has had a poverty rate of 20% or higher between 1989 and 2019.
16 states report at least 10% of their population living in persistent poverty. But most of the suffering counties were found in the South — which accounts for over half the people living in persistent poverty, despite making up less than 40% of the population.
These financial realities have placed many Americans in the unfortunate situation of choosing between medical treatment and survival. The Federal Reserve study found that the share of Americans who skipped medical treatment because of the cost has drastically increased since 2020.
The reflection of this can be found in the overall health of households in different income brackets. 75% of households with an income of $25,000 or less report being in good health – compared to the 91% of households with $100,000 or more income.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Hill) (Federal Reserve)
Montana Governor Signs TikTok Ban
The ban will likely face legal challenges before it is officially enacted next year.
First Statewide Ban of TikTok
Montana became the first state to ban TikTok on Wednesday after Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed legislation aimed at protecting “Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party.”
The ban will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, though the law will likely face a handful of legal challenges before that date.
Under the law, citizens of the state will not be held liable for using the app, but companies that offer the app on their platforms, like Apple and Google, will face a $10,000 fine per day of violations. TikTok would also be subject to the hefty daily fine.
Questions remain about how tech companies will practically enforce this law. During a hearing earlier this year, a representative from TechNet said that these platforms don’t have the ability to “geofence” apps by state.
Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, told the Associated Press that app stores could have the capability to enforce the restriction, but it would be difficult to carry out and there would be a variety of loopholes by tools like VPNs.
Montana’s law comes as U.S. politicians have taken aim at TikTok over its alleged ties to the CCP. Earlier this year, the White House directed federal agencies to remove TikTok from government devices. Conservatives, in particular, have been increasingly working to restrict the app.
“The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented,” Gov. Gianforte said in a Wednesday statement.
Criticism of Montana Law
TikTok, however, has repeatedly denied that it gives user data to the government. The company released a statement claiming Montana’s law “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people” in the state.
“We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana,” the company said.
The American Civil Liberties Union condemned Montana’s law for similar reasons.
“This law tramples on our free speech rights under the guise of national security and lays the groundwork for excessive government control over the internet,” the ACLU tweeted. “Elected officials do not have the right to selectively censor entire social media apps based on their country of origin.”
Per the AP, there are 200,000 TikTok users in Montana, and another 6,000 businesses use the platform as well. Lawsuits are expected to be filed against the law in the near future.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Fast Company) (CBS News)
How a Disney-Loving Former Youth Pastor Landed on The FBI’s “Most Wanted” List
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Chris Burns’ 19-year-old son pleaded to his father via The Daily Beast.
Multi-Million Dollar Scheme
Former youth pastor turned financial advisor Chris Burns remains at large since going on the run in September of 2020 to avoid a Securities Exchange Commission investigation into his businesses.
Despite his fugitive status, the Justice Department recently indicted Burns with several more charges on top of the $12 million default judgment he received from the SEC.
Burns allegedly sold false promissory notes to investors across Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. The SEC claims he told the investors they were participating in a “peer to peer” lending program where businesses that needed capital would borrow money and then repay it with interest as high as 20%. Burns allegedly also reassured investors that the businesses had collateral so the investment was low-risk.
The SEC says that Burns instead took that money for personal use.
Burns began his adult life as a youth pastor back in 2007 before transitioning into financial planning a few years later. By 2017, he launched his own radio show, The Chris Burns Show, which was funded by one of his companies, Dynamic Money – where every week Burns would “unpack how this week’s headlines practically impact your life, wallet, and future,” according to the description. He also frequently appeared on television and online, talking about finances and politics.
The SEC alleges that he used his public appearances to elevate his status as a financial advisor and maximize his reach to investors.
His family told The Daily Beast that he became obsessed with success and he reportedly bought hand-made clothes, a million-dollar lakehouse, a boat, several cars, and took his family on several trips to Disney World. His eldest son and wife said that Burns was paying thousands of dollars a day for VIP tours and once paid for the neighbors to come along.
Then in September 2020, he reportedly told his wife that he was being investigated by the Securities Exchange Commission but he told her not to worry.
The day that he was supposed to turn over his business documents to the SEC, he disappeared, telling his wife he was just going to take a trip to North Carolina to tell his parents about the investigation. Then, the car was found abandoned in a parking lot with several cashier’s checks totaling $78,000
FBI’s Most Wanted
The default judgment in the SEC complaint orders Burns, if he’s ever found, to pay $12 million to his victims, as well as over $650,000 in a civil penalty. Additionally, a federal criminal complaint charged him with mail fraud. Burns is currently on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Last week, the Justice Department indicted him on several other charges including 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud.
“Burns is charged for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from clients in an illegal investment fraud scheme,” Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Financial crimes of this nature can cause significant disruptions to the lives of those who are victimized, and the FBI is dedicated to holding these criminals accountable.”
His family maintains that they knew nothing of Burns’ schemes. His wife reportedly returned over $300,000 that he had given to her.
She and their eldest son, who is now 19, told The Daily Beast they just want Burns to turn himself in, take responsibility for his actions, and try to help the people he hurt.
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Burns’ son said in a message to his father via The Daily Beast.