Home U.S COVID-19 concerns sent thousands of inmates home. Give clemency to those who...

COVID-19 concerns sent thousands of inmates home. Give clemency to those who deserve it.

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This spring, as more Americans are able to get vaccinated, there’s hope the pandemic is nearing its end and life is slowly returning to normal. But for 4,500 Americans, the end of the pandemic could instead mean returning to prison. 

The March 2020 CARES Act allowed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to expand the period of home confinement, which usually comes at the end of a sentence. As a result, thousands of incarcerated individuals convicted of nonviolent crimes were released from prison –where COVID-19 swept through cramped facilities – to home confinement. Many were able to reunite with their families and find jobs.   

But earlier this year, the Justice Department ordered that individuals under home confinement due to COVID-19 must return to prison when the emergency is lifted, putting 4,500 lives in limbo, awaiting an uncertain date when their return to normalcy is taken away. 

Inmates near the end of their sentence may be able to stay home if the Bureau of Prisons grants permission, according to a recent USA TODAY report. And while the Biden administration extended the length of the COVID emergency declaration, that still might not help people with years left to serve.   

The Federal Bureau of Prisons may decide to let inmates who have a short time left on their sentence to serve it at home.

The administration could get into a legal back-and-forth over the interpretation of the CARES Act. But a simpler path would be for President Joe Biden to grant clemency to those on home confinement who pose no threat to public safety. Reviewing the cases will be another step toward reducing unnecessary incarceration in America, which imprisons more people than any other democratic country with no added benefit to public safety.  

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