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US rule to allow some inmates to stay home after COVID emergency lifts


FILE PHOTO: The Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC), which is operated by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons, is pictured, as the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., December 8, 2020. REUTERS/Bren


By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal inmates who were allowed to serve their prison terms at home during the COVID-19 pandemic will be able to remain there after the Biden administration lifts the public health emergency, under new rules unveiled by the U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday.

The regulations are expected to provide some relief to inmates, who feared they could potentially be hauled back into prison when the public health emergency expires on May 11.

“This final rule makes clear that the Director of the Bureau of Prisons has the discretion to ensure that those who have made rehabilitative progress and complied with the conditions of home confinement are not unnecessarily returned to prison,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

He added that the department remains committed to “the successful transition of those on home confinement back to society.”

In March 2020, Congress authorized the Justice Department to declare an emergency so it could expand the pool of low-level, non-violent federal inmates who could qualify for home confinement, to contain the spread of the coronavirus throughout the federal prison system.

In January 2021, the department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued a memo saying once the emergency is lifted, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) would have no choice but to “recall prisoners in home confinement to correctional facilities” because the authority to send more people home was temporary.

Criminal justice and civil rights groups have lobbied the Justice Department and the White House to change those rules to prevent inmates from being returned to prison en masse.

The BOP will still be able to impose “proportional and escalating sanctions,” including a return to prison, on inmates who commit infractions.

Since March 2020, more than 12,000 inmates were placed into home confinement. Of those, the department said only a fraction of one percent were returned to prison due to new criminal conduct.



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