Prisoners sent to home confinement because of the pandemic might remain free

The Justice Department has reversed course in a legal analysis that could allow thousands of people released from prison at the start of the pandemic to remain free once the coronavirus emergency ends.

In a rare reconsideration, the department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued a new legal opinion concluding the Bureau of Prisons “has discretion to permit prisoners in extended home confinement to remain there.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland asked the OLC to reconsider the issue after personally reviewing the law. The move comes after months of intense pressure from a coalition of advocates across the political spectrum, who had urged the DOJ and the White House to reconsider.

“Thousands of people on home confinement have reconnected with their families, have found gainful employment, and have followed the rules,” Garland said in a written statement. “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.”

Earlier Tuesday, Garland met with a small group of people on home confinement to learn more about their experiences and challenges, the Justice Department said.

Kevin Ring, who advocates for people in prison and their families, recently told NPR the issue was a “bellwether” for the Biden administration’s criminal justice efforts.

“For somebody who isn’t sure whether they can get a lease, start a family, start a relationship, begin college courses, get on with their life, it’s incredibly callous to say, ‘Oh, we haven’t made a decision yet and we don’t have to because there’s a pandemic still going on,'” Ring added.

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