DOJ announces big news for some federal prisoners just in time for the holidays

Washington DC – Just in time for the holidays, the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday announced they will allow some federal inmates on home confinement to stay there after the Covid-19 pandemic ends.

The Justice Department under Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that some federal prisoners on home confinement may not have to return to prison after the pandemic ends.
The Justice Department under Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that some federal prisoners on home confinement may not have to return to prison after the pandemic ends.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

The move comes as a reversal of a Trump-era legal ruling that would have sent those people back to federal prisons.

The inmates in question were placed on home confinement, after getting vetted by the Bureau of Prisons, as a means of limiting the spread of Covid. The policy was part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act, passed in March 2020.

But in the final days of the Trump presidency, just five days before Biden took office, the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel decided that they would have to return to prison at the end of the pandemic.

Tyre Nichols killing: Sixth Memphis officer fired after fatal beating
Black Lives Matter Tyre Nichols killing: Sixth Memphis officer fired after fatal beating

If carried out, the re-incarceration proceedings were expected to impact around 2,800 people of the 4,900 placed in home confinement under the CARES Act, the New York Times reported.

Lawyers for the Biden administration upheld the ruling in July, despite pressure from criminal justice advocates and some members of Congress.

Now the administration seems to be reversing course, with Attorney General Merrick Garland releasing a statement on Tuesday, which read: "Thousands of people on home confinement have reconnected with their families, have found gainful employment and have followed the rules."

"We will exercise our authority so that those who have made rehabilitative progress and complied with the conditions of home confinement, and who in the interests of justice should be given an opportunity to continue transitioning back to society, are not unnecessarily returned to prison," he continued.

Progressives praise the move

Missouri Rep. Cori Bush praised the DOJ's decision but is urging the Biden administration to go a step further by commuting sentences.
Missouri Rep. Cori Bush praised the DOJ's decision but is urging the Biden administration to go a step further by commuting sentences.  © IMAGO / MediaPunch

Progressive politicians and criminal justice advocates have celebrated the news.

Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, Vice Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, described the decision as a "welcome step forward."

Bush signed on to a letter urging Garland in May to reverse the Trump administration's memo. The effort, led by New Jersey Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, gathered 29 signatures from a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

College Board succumbs to Gov. DeSantis' pressure and revises African American studies course
US politics College Board succumbs to Gov. DeSantis' pressure and revises African American studies course

In September, the Missouri Democrat and her colleagues sent another letter to the president urging him to commute the sentences of the people on home confinement as well as create an independent clemency board to assess the more than 15,000 petitions still awaiting a decision.

"Clemency is a constitutional imperative," the lawmakers wrote. "Granting commutations to those on home confinement and restructuring the clemency process demonstrates genuine compassion, while ensuring that our country continues to mitigate the risks of COVID-19, particularly in the populations that are most vulnerable to its spread."

The progressive politician has credited activist groups for Tuesday's win, saying that thanks to their efforts, "so many children and families can now celebrate the holidays knowing that their loved ones are one step closer to staying home."

But even as she praised the DOJ's announcement, Bush said there is more work to be done. She called on Biden to "grant these individuals and their families the permanent relief they deserve" by lessening their sentences.

Cover photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

More on US politics: