Activists Ask Biden to Grant Clemency to Inmates Released During Pandemic

( During the pandemic, in an effort to control the spread of COVID in prisons, the Bureau of Prisons released over four thousand inmates and placed them on home confinement. And now civil rights groups are asking the White House for increased clemency for those who were released.

The state of emergency that granted these inmates temporary reprieve back in March 2020 will expire at some point, and those released to home confinement will have to go back to prison.

But in a letter signed by 29 civil rights organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, Color for Change, and the Sentencing Project, the activists argue that the released inmates have “successfully reintegrated into their communities.” They argue that only a “tiny fraction” of those inmates released to home confinement violated their supervised release. Therefore, they are urging the White House not to separate them from their families by returning them to prison to serve out the remainder of the sentences.

Last month, Attorney General Merrick Garland said returning the inmates to prison “would be a terrible policy.” But it is unlikely the Justice Department has the legal power to extend the home-confinement after the state of emergency is lifted.

The Biden administration expects the COVID pandemic to continue at least through the end of the year. But it is unclear at this point when the state of emergency will end.

Only low-level, non-violent drug offenders with 18-months to four years left on their sentences can apply for clemency. It is not known how many of the 4,800 inmates currently on home confinement would be eligible for clemency under those conditions.

But the activists are asking President Biden to grant clemency to all 4,800 of these inmates whether they meet the eligibility or not.

A White House official told Reuters that, consistent with his campaign promise, President Biden is conducting an “initial clemency review.” The official said that this initial review is just a starting point in the process, but it does leave the door open for the President to grant clemency “for other populations.”