The New York Times reported Monday, citing officials, that President Joe Biden’s legal team has determined that thousands of federal inmates currently in house arrest will be returned to jail one month after the state of emergency ends. for the pandemic. No one knows when it will be.
Since April 2020, nearly 5,000 federal prison inmates have been transferred from prison to house arrest as part of the state of emergency established by then Attorney General William Barr. The aim of the initiative was to move the most vulnerable inmates from the highly contagious prison environment to their homes. To be eligible, inmates had to meet certain security requirements, behave well in prison and not pose a threat to society.
This issue of returning detainees to prison had been brewing for months. In October 2020, I wrote that some deputy prosecutors in the United States were casually poking fun at the fact that those who were housebound eventually had to return to jail. After the story aired, Family Against Mandatory Minimum President Kevin Ring contacted me to tell me his White House contacts said there was no intention to order inmates to return to prison and that they would be allowed to serve their remaining time of their prison sentence in house arrest. Then, a few months later, in January 2021, just a few weeks before the end of President Donald Trump’s presidential term, his legal team issued an OPINION MEMORANDUM FOR THE GENERAL COUNCIL OF THE FEDERAL PRISONS OFFICE on returning detainees to prison. . There was outrage in the legal defense community and it was almost a given that a more liberal-minded Joe Biden would certainly step in. Until today, the Biden administration has remained silent on the issue.
The position of the two administrations seems strange when the program has been so successful. When BOP director Michael Carvajal testified before the House and Senate in March and April 2021, he said that of the 20,000 home inmates (CARES Act plus those on home confinement because they were near of the end of their prison term), only 20 people were returned to penal institutions as a result of violations. That’s a 99.9% success rate.
Thousands of inmates have returned home, have jobs, reintegrated into their families and may now have to return to prison. The real problem, the grief, is for those who have years to serve their prison sentence … some over 3 years. If the detainees are to return, the BOP will be asked to pass judgment on whether some will simply continue with house arrest, as it might not make sense to send them back to jail … too few months left.
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) released a statement from its president Christopher W. Adams, “There is absolutely nothing against President Biden commuting the sentences of approximately 4,000 people detained at home under the CARES Act. The President should act expeditiously to ensure that these people are not evicted from their homes and communities in the midst of their reintegration process. While granting clemency to these individuals by commuting their sentences will not change the fact that the United States is the world’s leading incarcerator, it would be a strong signal that the administration is prioritizing reform of the criminal justice system, over the second. opportunities and the importance of a powerful executive power of grace. “
The problem has dragged on for months. Inmates who are housebound, despite the green light given by Attorney General Barr, have worked hard to achieve house arrest. The BOP has pushed inmates, even sick inmates, out of home isolation. This has forced thousands of inmates to seek relief from the effects of COVID by seeking compassionate release in federal courts, which is usually reserved for people with serious and terminal illnesses. While some have been successful, many have not. U.S. civil liberties unions in parts of the country have also filed a civil complaint asking the BOP and some institutions, saying the agency is not doing enough to place inmates in house arrest. Gradually, the BOP released more detainees under the CARES law, but it was not without a struggle.
The Biden administration should act in this direction and allow housebound inmates, who are all in compliance, to be allowed to complete their sentences at home. In fact, the program should be expanded to allow even more inmates to serve their sentences at home.