Those pushing for the overhaul of the prison system say the statistics are on their side. The vast majority of the 24,000 federal prisoners who have been returned to house arrest due to the coronavirus crisis have followed the rules. Most of them had only weeks or months to serve and completed them without incident.
Three people have committed new crimes, including one violent, Michael Carvajal, director of the Bureau of Prisons, told lawmakers during a Senate court hearing in April. About 150 people were returned to prison for other violations, including around 20 for leaving their designated homes without permission.
Kevin Ring, chairman of the criminal justice advocacy group FAMM, formerly known as Families Against Mandatory Minimums, questioned the relevance of cases in which people have been fired for technical violations such as online gambling , sending money to other inmates in prison or, in the case of a 76-year-old woman in Baltimore, attending a computer training course. “It doesn’t make anyone any safer,” he said.
Changing the prison system is one of the few areas that has struck a bipartisan deal in Washington. Iowa Republican Senator Charles E. Grassley joined Democrats in criticizing the Justice Department’s memo, released in January.
“Obviously if they can stay where they are it will save taxpayers a lot of money,” Grassley said at the hearing. “It will also help people who are not prone to recidivism and allow inmates to successfully reintegrate into society as productive citizens. “
Inmates are generally allowed to serve the last six months, or 10%, of their sentence in home confinement. The legal memo released by the Trump administration argued that the roughly 4,000 inmates whose sentences would almost certainly survive the pandemic should return to prison because they do not meet the usual eligibility requirements for house arrest.