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Thousands of inmates lucky enough to serve their sentences at home due to COVID-19 may return to cells


In this August 16, 2016 file photo, General Population inmates walk in line at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, California. Photo AP / Eric Risberg, file

  • Thousands of people jailed for petty crimes are serving their sentences at home due to the pandemic.

  • Due to a persistent legal opinion issued under the outgoing Trump administration, these people may have to return to prison.

  • The Biden administration has yet to respond to the legal opinion.

  • See more stories on the Insider business page.

A legal opinion issued in the remaining days of the Trump administration could force incarcerated people serving their sentences at home to return to jail.

Reuters reported that nearly 24,000 incarcerated people who have committed low-level crimes have been allowed to serve their sentences at home over fears of the spread of the coronavirus. But the legal opinion contains a clause which states that these incarcerated people could be evicted from their homes and placed in cells.

Congressional Democrats have called for the overturning of the legal opinion, drafted by the Justice Department under the Trump administration.

Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman, along with more than two dozen other congressional lawmakers, asked Biden in a letter last week to prioritize the overturning of the memo and cancel it.

“We urge you to use your executive leniency or ask the Justice Department to seek the compassionate release of those who have demonstrated that they no longer need to be under federal supervision,” the letter said. .

The Biden administration has so far left the legal note intact.

The memo says the home sentences only apply during the period when the coronavirus forces social distancing and quarantine. Once it is lifted, the Federal Bureau of Prisons “must recall prisoners held at home in penal institutions” if there is no other reason for them to stay at home, according to Reuters.

About 7,400 BOP incarcerated people still have time to serve – and those are the people who could be most affected if this memo is not rescinded.

“Words can’t really express how it feels to be home 11 years ago. To find a job, to open a bank account, ”said Kendrick Fulton, a 47-year-old man convicted of selling crack cocaine. “I’ve served over 17 years already. What more do you want? I should go back for another 11 years to do nothing?”

While at home, Fulton found a job with a wholesale auto glass distributor, Reuters reported.

A BOP union official told Reuters that prisons no longer had the staff to get these people back to jail, calling the task “impossible”.

“We don’t have the staff,” Joe Rojas, Southeast regional vice president of the Council Of Prison Locals told Reuters. “We are already in chaos as an agency.”

Neither the BOP nor the Justice Department immediately responded to a request for comment.

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