State-run Cook County jail on April 9 in Chicago, Illinois. The facility was previously the largest-known source of coronavirus in U.S. in early April. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

An expansion of home confinement designed to alleviate the impact of the coronavirus on federal prisons has been restricted to prisoners who have already served at least half their sentences, Politico and ABC News report.

Why it matters: The new rule, reported by friends and family members of inmates to Politico and detailed in a memo obtained by ABC News, could prevent high-risk prisoners at federal facilities from being sent home to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Flashback: Attorney General Bill Barr instructed the Bureau of Prisons on April 3 to expand the use of home confinement to fight the dangers of COVID-19, listing FCC Oakdale in Louisiana, FCI Elkton in Ohio and FCI Danbury in Connecticut as examples of virus hotspots.

  • BOP Regional Office Staff provided guidance to FCC Oakdale staff that the "consideration of whether inmates in low or minimum facilities have served 50% of their sentence" would factor into assigning home confinement, prison official Juan Segovia wrote in an early April court filing, per Politico.

Where it stands: "[I]nmates in various prisons who had been put into prerelease quarantine almost two weeks ago were advised Monday by authorities that the policy had changed," Politico reports, citing lawyers and associates.

  • "It was not immediately clear how the latest clarification to Justice Department policy would be implemented, including the question of whether inmates already put into and out of quarantine would now be released without undergoing another 14-day period of isolation," per Politico.
  • On April 5, the Bureau said it had placed an additional 566 inmates in home confinement since Barr's original memo on the directive dated March 26.

What they're saying: “The Department confirmed to BOP that BOP has discretion under the Attorney General's Memoranda on March 26 and April 3 regarding which inmates are appropriate candidates for home confinement in order to fight the spread of the pandemic," the DOJ said in a statement to Axios on Wednesday.

  • "Having received that confirmation, BOP intends to expeditiously transfer all inmates to home confinement who were previously referred for home confinement provided that such transfers are not forbidden by statute or the criteria expressly adopted in the Attorney General’s Memoranda. In addition, BOP continues reviewing other eligible inmates with more inmates being approved for home confinement each day."

The bottom line: 566 federal inmates and 342 BOP staff have tested positive for the coronavirus nationwide as of Wednesday, the agency reports. 24 inmates have died from the virus and there are currently no staff fatalities.

Go deeper: DOJ watchdog reviews federal prison conditions amid surge in coronavirus cases

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