Hundreds Of Black Incarcerated People Sent Home Due To COVID-19 Could Return To Prison Once Pandemic Ends
Kendrick Fulton, a Black man among 4,500 incarcerated people sent home due to COVID-19, spoke to Blavity about the possibility of returning to prison.
July 27, 2021 at 6:33 pm
Months since incarcerated people were sent home to serve out their sentences due to the spread of COVID-19, thousands are now facing the possibility of returning back to prison.
Last year, The Marshall Project reported that only 7% of low-risk Black male incarcerated people would be considered for release, per an investigation. Those who did go home were taunted when just 15 days before President Joe Biden took office, Donald Trump’s Justice Department penned a memo forcing roughly 4,500 incarcerated people back to prison after the emergency period ended, Axios reported.
During an interview with Blavity, Fulton, a first-time offender who was released Sept. 2020 after serving 17 years behind bars, said the BOP saw him fit for home confinement based on his progress despite being considered a danger to society by a judge's orders years prior. In less than 10 months at home, Fulton has earned his Commercial Driver's License and even secured a job offer paying $24 an hour. At home, he's currently serving the remainder of his 33-year sentence.
"I'm just proud of the fact that I'm out, just working on getting myself reactivated with society," he said joyfully.
In Oct. 2003, Fulton was indicted, along with 19 other individuals, on drug conspiracy which involved approximately 50 grams of crack and five kilograms of powder cocaine. According to BOP, drug offenses account for approximately 46% of federal crimes.
Despite Fulton and thousands of others being sent home to serve out his remaining sentence, The New York Times published an article stating that Biden's legal team concluded the Trump Administration memo had correctly interpreted the law. Incarcerated people now face the pressure of being sent back to prison once the pandemic is officially over.
“President Biden is committed to reducing incarceration and helping people to re-enter society,” Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman said, according to the article. “As he has said, too many Americans are incarcerated, and too many are Black and brown. His administration is focused on reforming our justice system in order to strengthen families, boost our economy and give people a chance at a better future.”
Per the Second Chance Act passed during George W. Bush’s presidency, federal prisons were introduced to at-home federal custody, otherwise known as home confinement, in which low-risk incarcerated people were allowed to carry out the last six months or 10% of their sentences at home. Last year, Congress expanded that time under the 2020 CARES Act in response to fears of spreading COVID-19 by broadening the Federal Bureau of Prison’s (BOP) authority to send eligible incarcerated people to their families, The Hill reported.
As of July 19, 2021, more than 400,000 incarcerated people nationwide tested positive for the virus, according to statistics from The Covid Prison Project.
Originally led by then-U.S. Attorney General William Barr in April 2020, the memo stated that at-risk incarcerated people appeared “safer serving their sentences in home confinement.” According to The Hill, 25,244 people incarcerated in federal prisons for nonviolent crimes were released due to the emergency. BOP ballooned that number to 28,667 on its website.
“We have to move with dispatch in using home confinement, where appropriate, to move vulnerable inmates out of these institutions,” Barr wrote.
But the rather inexplicit plan had its internal flaws. Comprehension of eligibility was already dizzying for incarcerated people and their families alike, according to Forbes.
Several nonprofits, including Justice Action Network, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have worked together against Trump’s memo in a letter sent to Biden and Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. Most recently the groups, along with a list of others, sent a joint letter to Biden, urging him to use his power of clemency by commuting the sentences of incarcerated people like Fulton to avoid increasing mass incarceration.
“We ask that you issue an order that contains a presumption that all people in home confinement under the CARES Act will have their sentences commuted, unless the [BOP] can prove an articulable and current threat of violent harm,” the letter read.