Corrine Brown released from prison in Florida over coronavirus fears

Ex-congresswoman says underlying health conditions put her at risk of dying if she gets COVID-19

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Former congresswoman Corrine Brown was released from prison Wednesday after serving less than half of her five-year sentence after her attorney argued she was especially vulnerable to coronavirus.

News 6 partner News4Jax was told she is on her way home to Jacksonville.

A prison official at Federal Correctional Institution Coleman speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed that Brown was released at 1:25 p.m. The official told News4Jax Brown “put a lot of political pressure on” to get released.

Her attorney began working for her release in late February because she believes her underlying health conditions place her at great risk of dying if she were to contract COVID-19, according to a motion filed with the court.

Brown, who was convicted of federal corruption, conspiracy, tax evasion and fraud, is serving a five-year sentence in Coleman, a federal facility in Sumterville that has already had an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease this year.

At the time of that outbreak, Brown was given an antibiotic based on her symptoms but was not given a diagnosis, her attorney, William Kent, explained in the motion.

Kent filed the emergency motion for compassionate release on Brown’s behalf but withdrew the motion after speaking “at length” with prosecutors. He said he believes it would help Brown’s case to obtain “documentation and records to better support her assertions" and then refile the motion.

Under federal law, compassionate release allows an inmate to be released when there are “extraordinary and compelling reasons.”

READ: Brown’s motion for compassionate release

The fear of a coronavirus outbreak is widespread among inmates in Florida prisons, according to a report from The News Service of Florida.

Brown filed a request for compassionate release with the warden at FCI Coleman on Feb. 26. She got a denial on Monday. Kent filed an initial motion with the court two days later.

According to court filings, the prosecutor from the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tysen Duva, opposes the motion, which argues that Brown will not pose a danger to the community if released but that her own health is at risk if she remains in prison.

Brown suffers from hypertension, diabetes, a heart murmur, acid reflux, sleep apnea and cataracts. Since being incarcerated, Brown's health has “declined considerably” and has “deteriorated to an alarming degree,” according to the motion.

A diaphragmatic/hiatal hernia is causing a strain on her breathing and her heart. The size of her heart has increased since she’s been in prison, probably caused by hypertension, and acid reflux and the enlarged heart are making her newly-diagnosed asthma worse, according to the motion.

“These conditions would prove fatal were she to become infected with COVID-19,” Kent argued. "All of these conditions are now experienced under the constant threat of COVID-19 infection, which given Brown’s age and medical conditions put her at great risk of death.”

Kent argues that conditions for Brown have reached a “crisis stage” and that Brown was notified this week that her entire unit is being moved to double-bunk with another unit because the facility is taking in two infected inmates from a county jail.

Kent added the inmate Brown would have been bunking with is coughing.

About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.

Lynnsey Gardner is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning investigative reporter and fill-in anchor for The Local Station.