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Biden Begins Clemency Procedure for Inmates Released Due to Covid Conditions

“While we are delighted to hear that the Biden administration is actively seeking pardon petitions for non-violent drug offenders, we pray that it does not divide the beneficiaries of the CARES Act into small subsets,” he said. said Amy Povah, a former prisoner who has become a well-known clemency. lawyer. “No other president in history has had the opportunity of a ‘dream come true’ to easily identify a large group of individuals who have already been vetted and successfully integrated into society, many of whom now have gainful employment, have found housing and are healing the family unit that has been injured as a result of harsh criminal sentencing policies that previous administrations have recognized as horribly unfair. ”

Since the spring of 2020, the Bureau of Prisons has released thousands of non-violent federal inmates into home confinement, citing concerns about the spread of Covid-19 in their facilities. The recidivism rate for this population has been extremely low, criminal justice reform organizations said.

But it was reported months ago that administration lawyers determined that people confined to homes under the CARES Act should be returned to jail once the pandemic is over. Of the approximately 7,000 inmates in this universe, approximately 2,000 to 4,000 would likely have been discharged without intervention. The others would have been close enough to the end of their initial sentences to be able to stay at home.

Rachel Hanson, 37, was one of those parolees who risked being returned to her federal facility. She was sentenced to 8.5 years and 151 months in prison for possession with intent to distribute an unspecified amount of cocaine. She had been released from prison in August 2021 under the CARES Act but kept in house arrest with an ankle monitor. She was contacted by her case manager on Friday, who told her that her name had been submitted by the Justice Department for expedited leniency and that she should complete her leniency case immediately.

She described the events of the past few days as a blur. “I was so surprised,” she said. ” I did not expect that. You hear about leniency. You know it happens to people, but you don’t always see it.

Hanson has three children, one of whom is in his last year of high school. She has a job interview scheduled for Tuesday for a production coordinator position at a welding factory. She must first hurry to finish her leniency package.

Criminal justice reform advocates have urged Biden to use the president’s pardoning powers to erase the sentences of all those released under the CARES law to house arrest. The American Civil Liberties Union ran television commercials in August calling on the president to take such action. The group also said it would hold days of action, run a full-page ad in the Washington Post, hold a press conference and encourage engagement from a broader set of actors, including the clergy, to increase the pressure.

Udi Ofer, deputy national political director of the ACLU, said that while he was encouraged that the administration was acting now, he criticized him for acting less than transparently with lawyers and advocacy groups. of criminal justice. He said he was troubled by the possibility that this separates the beneficiaries of the CARES Act into those who deserve a commutation and those who did not. He noted that the Bureau of Prisons, originally releasing detainees under the CARES Act, had already made a decision between those who posed a threat of violence and those who did not.

“On the other hand, through the anecdotal information that we see, we fear that the White House is taking this issue too narrowly and unnecessarily restricting the category of people who are asked to seek leniency,” he said. declared Ofer.

Some advocates of leniency and other forms of sentence reduction have also expressed concern that the Biden administration’s decision essentially puts it in a position to work from a list compiled by the Bureau of Prisons under the Trump administration, in a process that critics say lacked clear guidelines and transparency. .

“It is not known how the Bureau of Prisons selected the people for this home containment program, which begs the question of whether it is fair to give a special benefit to those people who are not available to those who filed for clemency sometimes years ago and waited patiently, “said Margaret Love, who served as a Justice Department clerk under Presidents George HW Bush and Bill Clinton.

Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.

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