By John Arceno and Stacie Guevara
(Editor’s note: The Biden administration has decided to send thousands back to prison unless Congress acts or Biden issues Mass Commutations).
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported that a coalition of 20 right-wing and left-wing organizations sent a letter to the Biden administration Monday, pleading with him to lessen the severity of the sentences of inmates who are currently serving the rest of their time at home under the CARES Act.
Because the coronavirus threatened the safety of those who are confined under cramped spaces, the ACLU reported that in an effort to mitigate this issue, the CARES Act was passed by Congress during the Trump administration to transfer inmates from federal prison to their homes.
As reported by the ACLU, approximately 4,000 people were eligible to serve the rest of their time at home. Public data also indicated that less than one percent of the inmates violated the terms of their release.
With the rise of COVID-19 vaccinations comes the significant decrease in cases of COVID-19, though the virus is still affecting mostly those who haven’t gotten a single dose of the vaccine just yet, according to NPR.
Although this is good news for the public, the ACLU said this poses a threat to the inmates who were sent home as they face the possibility of going back to federal prison.
The ACLU wrote that on Jan. 15, a memo from the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department (DOJ) proclaimed that people who served the remainder of their sentences at home under the CARES Act will be sent back to federal prison as soon as the pandemic is over.
The DOJ refused to heed the request of the public to rescind the memo, according to the ACLU.
Should President Biden not do anything to commute their sentences, the ACLU said that approximately 4,000 people could once again be stripped away from their families, “which would be one of the largest single acts of incarceration to date.”
The president of the Families Against Mandatory Minimum (FAMM) spoke up against the Justice Department’s memo. According to the ACLU, FAMM President Kevin Ring pointed out that the people in home confinement have been worried about the possibility of going back to federal prison.
“Despite doing everything right, they face the prospect of being returned to prison for no good reason,” Ring said. “President Biden should act now to remove this cloud from over their heads and keep them home with their families.
Because of President Biden’s decision, thousands of people are spending their days under the threat of being sent back to prison – one of those people is disabled Army veteran Miranda McLaurin, who was sentenced to five years in prison for a drug offense.
The 43-year-old was permitted to serve the rest of her sentence at her home in Mississippi, instead of being imprisoned more than 1,000 miles away in a Connecticut federal prison.
“I came home. I got a job – I’m working,” McLaurin said. But now, she and approximately 4,000 people just like her are under threat of being sent back to prison.
“President Biden campaigned on the promise of second chances, and made it clear to the ACLU that he will be committed to reducing the federal prison population,” said Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU’s Justice Division.
Ofer added, “Now is his opportunity to make good on those commitments. Thousands of people are back at home, reunited with families, rebuilding their lives. President Biden should use his power of clemency to make sure that they stay home and do not go back to prison because of a memo from the previous administration that was wrong on the law and is cruel in implementation.”
The organizations that sent this letter urged President Biden to use this opportunity to provide second chances to those thousands of people.
The coalition notes those who are out of prison, integrating themselves into society once again, reconnecting with loved ones, gaining employment and returning to school can be given second chances by President Biden. He can use his power of clemency to lighten the sentences of people living in home confinement and can help prevent this crisis, the group said.
“The sad irony around this tragedy is that the Trump administration felt it was safe for all these individuals to go home, and now, thanks to a bureaucratic technicality, they’re living with the constant threat of going back to prison,” said Holly Harris, president and executive director of the Justice Action Network.
Harris said, “The Biden administration can fix this. Yet, for months, they’ve kept these 4,000 people and their families twisting in the wind, unable to fully connect with their families, find employment, and contribute to their communities. It’s cruel, it’s wasted tax dollars, and it doesn’t make us any safer. It’s time for President Biden to grant clemency to these men and women and keep them home.”
The organizations that sent this letter include the ACLU, Amnesty International, the Brennan Center for Justice, Dream Corps JUSTICE, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Due Process Institute, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, FAMM, the Fortune Society, Freedomworks, FWD.us, the Justice Action Network, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP, NACDL, R Street, the REFORM Alliance, Right on Crime, the Sentencing Project and WE GOT US NOW.