The Joe Biden administration legal team has decided that thousands of federal convicts who were released to home confinement to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 will be required by law to return to prison a month after the official state of emergency for the pandemic ends, reports the New York Times. The legal team has decided that a Trump-era memo, which said inmates whose sentences lasted beyond the “pandemic emergency period” would have to go back to prison, correctly interpreted the law which applies to roughly 4,000 inmates.
The decision leaves two options if those prisoners are not to be sent back into cells: Either Congress could enact a law to expand the Justice Department’s authority to keep them at home beyond the emergency, or President Biden could use his clemency powers to commute their sentences to home confinement. The Biden team is said to be wary of a blanket mass commutation, and while case-by-case assessments for commutations could be another option, the volume of work required to individually evaluate so many people is daunting. The official state of emergency is not expected to end this year because of a rise in new infections caused by the coronavirus’s Delta variant.