Prison reform advocates have argued that the release of nonviolent prisoners during the Covid crisis has offered a test case for Mr. Biden to show he is committed to real change.
The disclosure of the Biden legal team’s internal decision came as an ideologically broad range of advocacy groups — nearly two dozen organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, FreedomWorks and the Faith and Freedom Coalition — stepped up pressure on the Biden administration not to recall inmates from home confinement when the emergency ends.
Notably, however, those organizations issued a letter framing their request in terms of Mr. Biden using his clemency powers to resolve the issue.
“On the campaign trail and during your presidency, you have spoken about the importance of second chances,” according to the letter. “This is your opportunity to provide second chances to thousands of people who are already safely out of prison, reintegrating back into society, reconnecting with their loved ones, getting jobs and going back to school. We urge you to provide clemency now to people under CARES Act home confinement.”
Wendy Hechtman, who is serving a 15-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute a form of fentanyl, said she still held out hope that the Biden administration would issue her and other inmates clemency. She has tried to show that she deserves such reprieve by following the rules of her sober home in New Haven, Conn., and attending weekly therapy sessions. But for now, she said she felt stuck in limbo.
“It’s like waiting to be sentenced all over again,” she said.
Under normal circumstances, the law permits Federal Bureau of Prisons officials to send federal inmates home toward the end of their time in prison — the shorter of the final six months or 10 percent of their sentences — to foster a smoother transition back into society.
But in March 2020, as part of the CARES Act, a package of legislation responding to the pandemic, Congress gave the Justice Department the authority to lengthen the time the bureau may place an inmate in home confinement during the “covered emergency period,” which it defined as ending 30 days after whenever the declared national emergency over Covid-19 ends.