In what NPR calls a "rare reconsideration," the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) has concluded the Bureau of Prisons has the "discretion" to permit the low-risk inmates released from prison and placed in "extended home confinement" to remain there once the COVID-19 emergency ends.
This reversal of a previous, Trump administration memo was engineered by Attorney General Merrick Garland, who "asked the OLC to reconsider the issue after personally reviewing the law," NPR reports. The decision arrives after "months of intense pressure from a coalition of advocates across the political spectrum." Inmates were sent home originally to ease crowding during the pandemic.
"Thousands of people on home confinement have reconnected with their families, have found gainful employment, and have followed the rules," Garland said in a statement. "We will exercise our authority so that those who have made rehabilitative progress and complied with the conditions of home confinement, and who in the interests of justice should be given an opportunity to continue transitioning back to society, are not unnecessarily returned to prison."
Assistant Attorney General Christopher Schroeder wrote in the new memo that the office did not "lightly depart from our precedents," but rather found that the prior opinion issued at the end of the previous administration "failed to address important and persuasive counterarguements."
"I screamed into the phone but who care's it's a Christmas miracle!!!" tweeted President of Justice Action Network Holly Harris in celebration of the news.
"Thousands of people can now breathe a sigh of relief knowing they will be able to remain in the communities where they have been living and working," wrote ACLU Justice Division Director Udi Ofer in a statement. But "while we celebrate today, we also commit to continuing to advocate for President Biden to use his power of clemency to commute these sentences."