The United States Senate voted Wednesday to terminate a COVID-19 pandemic national emergency order which had recently been extended by President Joe Biden. The CARES Act was set to expire on May 11, 2023 but with Biden expected to sign this law, will mean it will expire sometime in early April 2023.
According to a statement that the Biden administration made to Roll Call, “The President strongly opposes H J Res 7, and the administration is planning to wind down the COVID national emergency and public health emergency on May 11,” a White House official said Wednesday. “If this bill comes to his desk, however, he will sign it.”
The CARES Act defines “covered emergency period” as “the period beginning on the date on which the President declared a national emergency under the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.) with respect to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and ending on the date that is 30 days after the date on which the national emergency declaration terminates.”
The Bill itself is very short, only one sentence, which states, “Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That, pursuant to section 202 of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622), the national emergency declared by the finding of the President on March 13, 2020, in Proclamation 9994 (85 Fed. Reg. 15337) is hereby terminated.”
The Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) Office of Public Affairs provided a statement regarding this new Bill that “… the “covered emergency period” begins the date the President declared a national emergency with respect to COVID-19 and ends 30 days after the date on which the President terminates the national emergency.” Thirty days after the the signing of this law by the President, sometime around May 11, 2023, CARES Act home confinements will no longer be allowed, ending one of the most successful programs of prisoner integration back into society.
CARES Act allowed over 12,000 prisoners, mostly minimum security, to serve their prison term on home confinement under strict conditions. Of those, many have completed their sentences successfully and few of the total on home confinement violated to return to prison. It demonstrated that many prisoners could successfully complete their sentence outside of a prison setting, an expensive proposition that costs tax payers over $120/day per prisoner.
Home confinement as a part of a federal prison term has been around for decades. In fact, prior to CARES Act, most all prisoners could have up to 6 months of their sentence served on home confinement. Again, most prisoners who get to those final days or months of home confinement rarely violate the conditions and successfully reintegrate back into society.
The BOP stated in a previous article that it was not slowing CARES Act home confinement in these waining days of the program. However, one prisoner at low security prison, FCI Elkton (Ohio) said that their facility has noted a marked decrease in those who are placed on CARES Act home confinement. The prisoner stated “I am here to tell you that the agency is responding to inmates completely contrary to how they’ve responded to you [based on previous article written by Pavlo].” For all of the CARES Act successes, a review of the program, which will ultimately occur, will assess the equity with which the BOP used its authority. Many prisoners who were approved for CARES Act have told me that they received a denial but no real explanation for that denial. Others, with the support of a case manager and warden, were denied by Central Office, most likely from interference from prosecutors who have a renewed interest in keeping prisoners in institutions for as long as possible.
We all realize that COVID-19 is slowly slipping into history, thankfully, and life can resume to what we knew in 2019. However, the lessons learned from the emergency period should be applied to a post-COVID-19 world, and that should include criminal justice. Prisoners can be sentenced to a term of incarceration but COVID-19 provided a view of what alternatives can look like. It may be up to Congress to enact something similar to CARES Act home confinement that will permanently allow the BOP to determine where a prisoner serves the sentence, including home confinement.