Will Inmates Released During Pandemic Return to Prison?

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In the wake of increased vaccinations, thousands of inmates released last year to stem the spread of COVID-19 in prisons could be returned to prison to serve the remainder of their sentences, thanks to a little-noticed legal opinion issued by the Justice Department in the waning days of Republican former President Donald Trump’s administration, reports Reuters. Thanks to the CARES Act, a 2020 law that gave the attorney general the authority to release low-level inmates into home confinement during the pandemic, more than 23,800 inmates currently serve their sentences at home.

However, the opinion states that once the emergency is lifted the federal Bureau of Prisons “must recall prisoners in home confinement to correctional facilities” if they do not otherwise qualify to remain at home – a move that could impact as many as 7,399 U.S. Bureau of Prisons inmates who currently remain out on home confinement because they still have time left on their sentences. Criminal justice reform advocacy groups say that if the White House leaves the policy in place, it will destroy the lives of thousands of people who pose little public safety risk and have already landed jobs, returned to school and tried to reintegrate into society. A BOP spokesman said the bureau is aware of the memo but declined to answer further questions. A union official who represents correctional staff said he believed that ordering everyone back to prison would be logistically “impossible.”

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