On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed in to law the CARES Act., which primarily provided economic relief to American businesses, tax rebates to individuals and families, and the temporary suspension of student loan payments. However, tucked away deep inside the Act, are several provisions which impact federal inmates and their families. Three major points will be discussed here. First, the CARES Act expands the type of proceedings that can be conducted by phone or video conference. Generally speaking, during this emergency declaration, federal courts can now conduct almost all proceedings, save for trials, plea and sentencing hearings, by phone or video conference. This is very important because detention and bail hearings need to be conducted immediately, so that persons are not detained any longer than necessary. In the case of sentencing hearings, if an incarcerated client is facing a very short sentence, or a sentence of time served, their lawyer can petition the court for permission to conduct the hearing by video. Otherwise, the sentencing hearing will likely be postponed to some future date, and likely causing the client to sit in jail longer than necessary.The second important part of the CARES Act expands the authority of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), to lengthen the maximum amount of time for which an inmate may be released under home confinement. The decision to release an inmate under confinement is NOT automatic, but rather it is done on a case-by-case basis. The criteria for BOP case evaluation is: age and health vulnerability of the inmate; priority is given to inmates classified as minimum or low security risk; sex offenders and violent offenders are excluded from consideration; and those inmates with a disciplinary infraction within the last year are also excluded. I recommend that inmates and their families prepare a release plan, on where they would live, to be presented to their case manager, or the warden’s office. Their lawyer can also file a motion with the sentencing judge for a recommendation to the BOP for home confinement release (this is different than a motion for compassionate release). Lastly, the CARES Act provides for free phone or video visitation for families during the emergency period. I am less than optimistic that this will actually occur before the emergency declaration period ends, because the BOP is notoriously slow in implementing anything which benefits inmates and their families. In total, the CARES Act does provide some glimmer of hope for federal inmates, and I recommend that you contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer to assist in this area. Unfortunately, the CARES Act does NOT provide relief for state inmates. In our next post, we shall discuss some creative ways to help state inmates earn release. In the meantime, stay healthy!