Future of inmates released from prison under Cares Act remains uncertain

U.S.

CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Thousands of inmates are now out of prison thanks to a Cares Act provision that granted them home confinement due to COVID-19. However, when the new opportunity will end is still unclear. 

The Marshall Project, a nonprofit that’s been collecting data on COVID-19 infections in state and federal prisons, says since the pandemic first reached prisons in March 2020, about 3 in 10 prisoners tested positive for the coronavirus. At least 2,500 have died.

Congress granted thousands of inmates the ability to serve their sentences from home. But with more inmates being vaccinated and the CDC loosening guidelines, the question remains: When will they have to return to prison.

Gwendolyn Levi

In 2004, Gwendolyn Levi of Baltimore was sentenced to 400 months in prison for conspiracy to distribute more than 1 kilogram of heroin.

“Which would make me 97 years old,” said Levi. “Then I would have to produce a life worth living inside of prison.”

She says she used incarceration to better herself. Then her sentence was reduced, allowing her to get out of prison in 2025 instead of 2033. 

“I knew that at that time I would have to change my whole lifestyle,” she said. “I would have to use that time to become a different person, really.” 

Then in June of 2020, the pandemic gave her a rare chance.   

“Another opportunity came after I got my sentence reduction: The pandemic. Everybody says it’s a pandemic and everybody says how bad it is — and I realize how bad it is — but to me, it was a blessing,” she said.

Gwendolyn Levi

At 75, he was released to home confinement when Congress enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the Cares Act. Because of her age, underlying health issues and good behavior, she met the criteria to be released. 

There are currently 7,213 inmates currently in home confinement, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The total number of inmates placed in home confinement as of March 26, 2020, to the present, including inmates who have completed their sentence, stands at 25,607.

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The Bureau of Prisons has yet to give a deadline on when this will end. Something Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, sees as a major problem.

“It was torture for people in prison,” said Ring. “There’s no social distancing. Once the disease got in it spread like wildfire. You had a lot of sick and elderly people in there who died. And there’s no real medical care.”

Ring pushed congressional leaders and the U.S. attorney general to rescind the DOJ memo.

“They’ve already had that family separation which was hard…I’d went through when I went to prison. That was the worst day of my life saying goodbye to my kids, the idea that I would have to do it a second time for no good reason?”

“BOP will have discretion to keep inmates on home confinement after the pandemic if they’re close to the end of their sentences. For the harder cases, where inmates still have years left to serve, this will be an issue only after the pandemic is over,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement.

President Joe Biden recently extended the national emergency and the Department of Health and Human Services says the public health crisis is likely to last for the rest of the year.  

The Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons told NewsNation they are focused on expanding the criteria for home confinement.

But there is still not a deadline set.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Kevin Ring’s stance on inmates returning to jail. This has been corrected. NewsNation regrets the error.

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