Anthony Boyd, a director at the Michigan Liberation nonprofit organization, shares his two cents with the possible rescinding of the CARES Act early release prison program.
Photo provided by Anthony Boyd
It’s no shock that COVID-19 has seeped into every facet of life in America and around the world.
Even prisoners were not exempt from the impact of the virus. In fact, throughout America’s prisons, COVID-19 spread from inmate to inmate at six times the rate as it did in the general population outside of prison walls, NPR reported.
Due to the devastating pandemic, tens of thousands of the incarcerated sought an early release from prison because of their susceptibility to COVID-19 including old age and health problems, which could have made them especially vulnerable, per NPR.
According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, of the nearly 31,000 prisoners who requested compassionate release, only 36 were approved.
Last March, former President Donald Trump signed the CARES Act, that broadened the Bureau of Prison’s options to put more inmates under home confinement, according to a CBS News article. Trump’s administration released inmates who previously didn’t have violent offenses, along with no disciplinary issues while inside prison.
Other prisoners allowed to be released were 8,300 federal inmates who were allowed to go home last Spring in an attempt to reduce the spread of the virus. However, last year, the Trump administration’s Justice Department required these same inmates to go back to prison when the pandemic is over – when that is, is unclear.
Yet, some exceptions are in place for inmates with less than six months or 10 percent remaining on their sentence who would have qualified for home confinement anyway. At the time of this report, about 4,700 inmates are currently at home under federal supervision, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons in the CBS News report.
In April, the Biden administration loosened the program’s criteria, allowing prison wardens to refer inmates for home supervision.
Most recently, the Biden administration said it will start reviewing who is presently on home confinement (including non-violent drug offenders) who have fewer than four years left of their prison sentence or even have sentences that don’t fit the crime anymore. Still up in the air are questions about how many inmates would take advantage of this, or have to return to prison, according to the article.
Jessica Jackson, the chief advocacy officer at the national organization, Reform Alliance, is one of several criminal justice advocates, who asked rhetorically in the article, “What are you accomplishing? You’re taking them away from their employment,” she said in the story. “I don’t know a whole lot of jobs out there who are willing to wait a couple of months for somebody to come back.”
Some legal experts noted that Biden could do sweeping mass clemency for certain inmates or do individual reviews per inmate through the CARES Act, according to the article.
For the inmates who are under home confinement, Bureau of Prisons’ rules are enforced: any violation or crime would put them right back in prison.
Native Detroiter Anthony Boyd, program manager at Michigan Liberation, a nonprofit organization that works toward helping residents and their families dealing with incarceration, told the Michigan Chronicle that as someone with up close and personal experience in the federal and state criminal justice system, he is inspired to improve how inmates are treated while they are incarcerated. He also wants to change the landscape of who makes up the prison population – primarily Black men.
Boyd — who did 18 years in state prison and five years in federal – said that he is connected very closely with a Detroit family that is dealing with the very real possibility of their loved one who was released possibly being sent back to prison.
“It’s a tragedy to let some people out because of COVID-19 [only to send them back],” Boyd said.
Boyd, who has helped countless prisoners along the way building up their profile to show judges a “more well-rounded view of the person,” said that it would be a “tragedy” if the prisons are sent back.
He said prisoners who were released early have learned to adjust and adapt to an “entirely different world” and many have more than likely gotten jobs and re-acclimated with their loved ones.
“I cannot imagine what these men and women feel like who are on the cusp of possibly being sent back … that’s another readjustment — that type of readjustment is wow, trauma-inducing,” Boyd said. “I can’t even explain the trauma that goes along with that.”
Boyd added that he thinks for Black Detroiters who might be impacted by this, that they could potentially go back to prison, would be detrimental to their families.
“I think for a lot of Black Detroiters it’s going to dismantle to a degree a family,” Boyd said. “These men and women came home under the guise of being released and being able to serve their time at home; they started restructuring their families again — they got into rebuilding their families again; now you’re talking about taking them away again.”
Boyd said that the early-release prisoners should think about “fighting for their rights” to remain outside of the prison walls.
“That would be one way,” he said, adding that if they are a low risk to society, “what else can they do [except for what] is expected of them?”