WASHINGTON (AP) – The Justice Department reversed its own legal opinion on Tuesday and said it would allow federal inmates released at homes due to the coronavirus pandemic to stay out of jail.
The move announced by Attorney General Merrick Garland came after months of pressure on President Joe Biden from criminal justice groups, lawmakers and other advocates. In the closing days of the Trump administration, the DOJ said released inmates should return to prison after the emergency period declared during the pandemic ends. Nearly 3,000 former detainees have potentially been returned to prison.
The Justice Department’s legal counsel‘s office said on Tuesday that it had not “deviated lightly from our precedents, and we have considered the views expressed in our prior opinion with care and respect.” .
The office concluded that “the pre-existing Federal Bureau of Prisons authorities do not require that inmates in extended house arrest be returned en masse to penal institutions at the end of the emergency period.”
The original releases were cleared under the $ 2.2 trillion CARES Act that former President Donald Trump signed in March 2020. As the virus spread, then Attorney General William Barr, has ordered federal prisons to increase the use of house arrest and speed up the release of eligible high-risk inmates as coronavirus cases increase, especially in detention settings. Priority was given to those in low and medium security prisons where the virus was spreading the fastest.
“Thousands of people confined to their homes have reconnected with their families, found gainful employment and followed the rules,” Garland said in a statement. a rule-making process to ensure the ministry lives up to the letter and spirit of the CARES Act.
Garland added: “We will exercise our authority so that those who have made progress in their rehabilitation and have complied with the conditions of home confinement, and who, in the interests of justice, should be given the opportunity to continue reintegration. society, are not unnecessarily sent back to prison. “
More than 35,000 inmates have been released as part of efforts to alleviate pandemic conditions as long as they met certain criteria, including if they were unlikely to pose a danger to others. But 2,830 of the 4,879 people who remain housebound are expected to return to prison, the BOP said. The others have finished their sentences.
Garland called the lawyers Tuesday before the announcement.
“This is great news for thousands of people and their families ahead of the holidays,” Families Against Mandatory Minimums president Kevin Ring said in a statement. “There is no way the people confined to their homes by the CARES Act should have been returned to jail, and we are very grateful to the Biden administration for correcting this error.”