The White House has threatened to veto a Republican Senate resolution that would result in roughly 3,000 federal offenders who were released to home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic being sent back to prison.
In a statement of administration policy released Wednesday, the Biden administration said it opposes Senate Joint Resolution 47, introduced by Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R–Tenn.) in late October. As Reason previously reported, the resolution, which criminal justice advocates say could reach the Senate floor for a vote as early as this week, would overturn a Justice Department rule allowing some federal offenders to remain under house arrest after the end of the government’s COVID-19 emergency declaration.
The White House cited the extraordinarily low recidivism rate among those released to home confinement and the reduced cost to taxpayers compared to incarceration.
“Of the over 13,000 people released to home confinement under the CARES Act, less than one percent have committed a new offense—mostly for nonviolent, low-level offenses—and all were returned to prison as a result,” the statement says. “Moreover, since home confinement is less than half the cost of housing someone in prison, this program has saved taxpayers millions of dollars and eased the burden on BOP staff so they can focus on the higher risk and higher need people in Federal prison.”
The resolution is the latest in a battle among the Biden administration, criminal justice advocacy groups, and Republicans over the continuation of the pandemic-era policy.
In the final days of the Trump administration, the Justice Department released a memo finding that once the federal government ended its COVID-19 emergency declaration, all former inmates with remaining sentences would have to report back to prison.
Criminal justice advocacy groups began pressing the Biden administration to reverse that decision, arguing that the program had been an unqualified success and that it would be bizarre and cruel to send back people who had thrived on the outside. The White House initially declined to do so, instead announcing a clemency initiative that would have targeted only nonviolent drug offenders, leaving thousands of others, such as white-collar offenders, to return to prison regardless of their conduct. But last December, the Justice Department reversed course and issued a new memo finding that the BOP had the discretion to leave them under house arrest for the remainder of their sentences.
“It would be a terrible policy to return these people to prison,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said, “after they have shown that they are able to live in home confinement without violations.”
Republicans balked at the sudden change in legal opinion. Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.), one of 28 Republican co-sponsors of Blackburn’s resolution, wrote that the reversal “betrays victims and law-enforcement agencies that trusted the federal government to keep convicted criminals away from the neighborhoods that the offenders once terrorized.”
Criminal justice advocates say there’s no terror going on. Right on Crime, a conservative criminal justice reform group, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that the resolution “will cost millions to lock up thousands of people who have been thriving with no offenses while following all the rules of electronic monitoring.”
Caught in the middle of all this are thousands of people who have spent the last three years trying to put their lives back together, such as Kendrick Fulton, who was incarcerated for 17 years for a nonviolent drug offense before being released to home confinement under the CARES Act. Fulton has since gotten his commercial driver’s license and steady work.
Fulton told Reason earlier this month, “We’re doing better than people that are all-the-way discharged, and they wanna send us back. They know the program is a success. They know it’s a win-win, and it’s saving taxpayer dollars.”