Court Battles

Top Senate Democrats urge Biden to take immediate action on home confinement program

Two top Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are calling on President Biden to quickly adopt a plan to keep thousands of federal inmates who were transferred to home confinement during the pandemic out of prison.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the committee’s chairman, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who chairs a subcommittee on criminal justice, are urging Biden in a letter sent to the White House on Thursday to use the “ample executive authority” at his disposal to ensure that those on home confinement are not sent back to prison.

“Given the breadth of available executive authority, no person who has successfully transitioned to home confinement should be required to return to federal prison,” Durbin and Booker wrote in the letter, which was shared with The Hill. “The uncertainty of the current situation unnecessarily interferes with the efforts of those on home confinement to rebuild their lives and participate in our economic recovery. With the goal of facilitating successful community reentry, we urge you to act immediately to resolve this issue and enable those on release to move forward with their lives.”

A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The CARES Act, a pandemic relief bill passed into law last year, authorized federal prison officials to move many inmates into home confinement in order to reduce the massive incarcerated populations that were vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19.

On Jan. 15, shortly before Biden’s inauguration, the Trump administration issued a legal memo that concluded the home confinement program would have to end whenever the pandemic was declared over, forcing the thousands who have started new lives outside of prison to go back behind bars.

The Biden administration has said little about how it intends to move forward with the program. Last month, The New York Times reported that officials had decided to stick with the Trump administration’s interpretation of what the CARES Act requires and transfer the home confinees back to prison.

But the White House has not made any announcement about its plans with the program, and those on home confinement are grappling with uncertainty about whether the lives they built over the past year will be brought to a sudden halt.

The new letter from Durbin and Booker is the latest sign of the intense pressure Biden is facing from his own party and criminal justice reform advocates to come up with a plan.

Critics of the Trump administration memo have urged the Biden Justice Department to rescind it, attacking its legal reasoning as flawed. They have also proposed alternatives, like Biden using his pardon power on those who have successfully been living in home confinement or the Justice Department approving signing off on compassionate release motions that would allow them to end their sentences early.

Many advocates have stressed that it matters little to them how Biden uses his authority to keep the select group out of prison as long as he does so and does it quickly in order to end the uncertainty for the inmates.

In April, Durbin and Booker called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to rescind the memo. They said on Thursday that they have yet to receive a response.

“Your Administration has ample executive authority to immediately provide the certainty these returning citizens deserve as they reintegrate into their communities, reunite with their families, and join in rebuilding our economy,” they told Biden.

Tags Cory Booker COVID-19 Department of Justice Dick Durbin home confinement Joe Biden Merrick Garland Pandemic

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