The administration of US President Joe Biden is considering returning to prison thousands of federal convicts who were released to home confinement to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19.
The Biden administration’s legal team decided that the prisoners will, under the law, have to return to prison a month after the official state of emergency for the pandemic ends, according to a report by the New York Times.
Criminal justice reform activists and some lawmakers have pressured the administration to revoke the Trump-era memo by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which states inmates whose sentences lasted beyond the “pandemic emergency period” would have to go back to prison.
However, the Biden legal team has concluded that the memo correctly interpreted the law, which applies to around 4,000 nonviolent inmates, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
There are currently 7,225 federal inmates in home confinement, according to the Bureau of Prisons.
The official state of emergency is not likely to end this year due to an increase in new infections caused by the coronavirus’s Delta variant.
However, the plan means that whenever it ends, the Justice Department’s hands will be tied.
In order for the prisoners to stay at home, Congress could pass a law to allow the department to let home confinement continue.
The president himself could also use his clemency powers to commute their sentences to home confinement.
The White House, when asked to comment, issued a general statement, saying, “President Biden is committed to reducing incarceration and helping people to re-enter society.”
Meanwhile, two leading Senate Democrats and a broad range of advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, FreedomWorks and the Faith and Freedom Coalition, called on the Biden administration to refrain from the plan.
The organizations issued a letter framing their request in terms of Biden using his clemency powers to deal with the matter.
“On the campaign trail and during your presidency, you have spoken about the importance of second chances,” according to the letter. “This is your opportunity to provide second chances to thousands of people who are already safely out of prison, reintegrating back into society, reconnecting with their loved ones, getting jobs and going back to school. We urge you to provide clemency now to people under CARES Act home confinement.”
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday that there is no reason to return those inmates to prison.
Since being released, the prisoners "have posed no threat, and are already reintegrating into society, reconnecting with their families, and contributing to our economy," he said in a statement.
Also, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, a leading advocate in the upper chamber for criminal justice reform, said he was "deeply troubled" by the administration's interpretation of the law.