- Thousands of people imprisoned for low-level crimes have been serving their sentences at home because of the pandemic.
- Because of a lingering legal opinion made under the outgoing Trump administration, these people might have to return to prison.
- The Biden administration has yet to address the legal opinion.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
A legal opinion made in the remaining days of the Trump administration might force incarcerated people who have been serving their sentences at home to return to prison.
Reuters reported that nearly 24,000 incarcerated individuals who’ve committed low-level crimes have been allowed to serve their sentence at home due to fears of the spread of the coronavirus. But the legal opinion has a clause that says these incarcerated individuals might be removed from their homes and put back into cells.
Congressional Democrats have called for the reversal of the legal opinion, written by the Justice Department under the Trump administration.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, along with more than two dozen other congressional lawmakers, asked Biden in a letter last week to prioritize the memo’s reversal and rescind it.
“We urge you to use your executive clemency authority or direct the Justice Department to seek compassionate release for people 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 memo untouched.
The memo says the at-home sentences only apply to the period of time during which the coronavirus forces social distancing and quarantining. Once it’s lifted, the federal Bureau of Prisons “must recall prisoners in home confinement to correctional facilities” if there is no other reason for them to stay at home, according to Reuters.
About 7,400 BOP incarcerated individuals have remaining time to serve – and these are the individuals who might most be impacted if this memo isn’t rescinded.
“Words can’t really express how I feel to be home 11 years earlier. To get a job, to get a bank account,” said Kendrick Fulton, a 47-year-old man who was sentenced for selling crack cocaine. “I served over 17 years already. What more do you want? I should go back for another 11 years to literally just do nothing?”
In the time that he’s been home, Fulton got a job at a wholesale auto glass distributor, Reuters reported.
A BOP union official told Reuters correctional facilities no longer have the staff to get these individuals back to prison, calling the task “impossible.”
“We don’t have the staff,” Joe Rojas, Southeast Regional Vice President at Council Of Prison Locals, said to Reuters. “We are already in chaos as it is as an agency.”
Neither the BOP nor the Justice Department immediately responded to a request for comment.