A new analysis of the Department of Justice (DOJ) suggests that thousands of federal inmates placed in home confinement to combat the COVID-19 epidemic may be able to stay there for longer periods of time.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was a large pandemic-related spending and aid bill that Congress approved in March 2020. It included many provisions that gave the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the power to release federal prisoner and place them in home confinement as long as it was deemed a national emergency by the government. This was done to combat the spread COVID-19 within prisons. Under the CARES Act, more than 4800 federal prison inmates were moved to home confinement.
In the closing days of Donald Trump’s administration, DOJ published a ruling that inmates having been released under CARES Act were required to go back to prison.
As President Joe Biden became president, this determination sparked a surge in criminal justice activism. Reformers lobbyed both the White House (DOJ) to make sure that such a thing didn’t happen. Some of the inmates were able to rejoin their families, while others found employment. These inmates were actively contributing to society. They were contributing to society. Their recidivism rate was extremely low. The Brennan Center, a criminal justice reform organization Brennan Center, estimated that around 20 of them had broken the terms of their release.
However, earlier in the summer, the Biden Administration determined that Trump’s Trump-era memo was right. Once the government has formally declared that there is no pandemic, then 2,800 prisoners who were released under the CARES Act will have to return to prison to finish their sentences.
Biden was asked to invoke his clemency power to commute sentences for these men. There was a very limited number of commutation requests that could be made by the government. This would apply only to drug offenders sentenced for less than 4 years.
The DOJ changed course on Tuesday. Christopher H. Schroeder is the assistant attorney general at the Office of Legal Counsel. He wrote a 15 page memo reviewing the text of CARES Act. It also explained the BOP’s authority to grant home confinement. Schroeder concluded that the BOP has the right to allow these inmates to remain at home. He compared other BOP policies and memos about home confinement. His memo states that inmates who make the transition to home confinement will not be sent back to secure facilities unless they have a discipline reason. The benefit of home confinement to adapt to living in the community is the goal, so removal would clearly frustrate this goal. Schroeder points out that federal laws passed in recent years, such as the FIRST STEP Act 2018, allow home confinement to continue for extended periods.
Merrick Garland, Attorney General of Massachusetts, made a quick statement supporting the new determination.
“Thousands have been released from home confinement and are now in contact with their families. They have also found work that they love, and followed the rules. The Office of Legal Counsel’s today’s opinion has prompted me as the Secretary to order the Department to initiate a rulemaking process in an effort to ensure the Department adheres to the letter of and spirit of CARES Act. We will exercise our authority so that those who have made rehabilitative progress and complied with the conditions of home confinement, and who in the interests of justice should be given an opportunity to continue transitioning back to society, are not unnecessarily returned to prison.”
Organizations that promote criminal justice reform are delighted. Udi Oter, the American Civil Liberties Union’s justice division director, said in prepared statements that “Thousands can breathe a sigh in relief” because they will still be allowed to live and work in the same communities. This decision was unanimously supported by voters. A poll released by the ACLU found that 68 percent of voters believe that it would be unfair to force these individuals back to prison.”
FAMM President Kevin Ring said, “This is great news for thousands and their families before the holidays.”We are grateful for the Biden Administration’s correction of this error.