Thousands of prisoners were sent home for COVID. They don’t want to go back.


Wendy Hectman, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison, was released under house arrest on May 13, 2021 during a pandemic show in New Haven, Connecticut.  (Hillary Swift / New York Times)

Wendy Hectman, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison, was released under house arrest on May 13, 2021 during a pandemic show in New Haven, Connecticut. (Hillary Swift / New York Times)

New Haven, Connecticut — Wendy Hectmann has been trying to do everything right since he was sent to a modest living facility six months ago as part of the mass release of nonviolent prisoners to delay the spread of the coronavirus. did.

She makes up for the lost time with her children. One of them was only 6 years old when Hectman was trapped about 3 years ago. She goes to a weekly drug counseling session. She even received a part-time job to help former prisoners return to society.

But now, Hectman is one of about 4,000 federal criminals who could soon return to jail, not because he violated the conditions of house arrest, but because the United States appears to have survived the worst of the pandemic. It is a person.

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On the final day of the Trump administration, the Justice Department issued a memo stating that prisoners who have been sentenced beyond the “pandemic emergency period” must return to prison. However, some legislators and criminal justice advocates urged President Joe Biden to revoke the rules, use his executive branch to keep them under house arrest, or end his sentence altogether. It claims to have a glimpse of different types of punishment systems in the United States, much less dependent on imprisonment.

“If I go to jail all the time I’m away, I don’t have boys anymore. They’ll be men,” he said. Hectman, who has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for plotting to distribute the form of fentanyl, said. “I have a lot to lose, and to get.”

Biden has vowed to make a review of the criminal justice system an important part of his presidency, saying his administration could cut the prison population by more than half and expand programs that offer alternatives to detention. Stated.

The White House hasn’t announced a decision on house arrest yet, but the administration seems to be following the instructions of the Trump era memo.

Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement that the president “promised to reduce imprisonment and help people re-enter society,” but the future of people under house arrest. Asked the Justice Department about the question.

Christie Brescias, a spokeswoman for the prison bureau, which is part of the Justice Department, said the bureau was “discretionary” so that prisoners nearing the end of their sentence could remain under house arrest after a national emergency. I have the right. ” The declaration has been lifted.

“In more difficult cases where prisoners still have years to serve, this will only be a problem after the pandemic is over,” she said. “The president recently extended the national emergency, and the Department of Health and Human Services said the public health crisis was likely to continue for the rest of the year.”

The White House reviews the emergency declaration every three months, keeping former prisoners in a state of constant instability. The next deadline is July.

Stacey Demars, who served nearly half of the 10-year sentence in a plot to distribute marijuana, said he felt “stuck between the beginning and the end, so to speak.” She is currently at her aunt’s house in Albany, NY. “Things are always behind my heart: do I have to go back? Will I ever see my family again?”

An alternative to a crowded prison

The United States is believed to be the world leader in imprisonment, spending $ 80 billion annually to detain more than 2 million people.

Criminal justice advocates argue that house arrest could be a more humane and cheaper alternative to already crowded prisons, especially for nonviolent criminals.

The United States spent an average of $ 37,500 to detain federal prisoners such as Hechtman in fiscal year 2018. In contrast, the 2017 Government Accountability Office reports that house arrest costs about $ 13,000 annually, including payments to surveillance equipment and private contractors to handle surveillance.

Those promoting overhaul of the prison system say the statistics are on their side. The majority of the 24,000 federal prisoners released under house arrest due to the coronavirus crisis obeyed the rules. Most of them had only a few weeks or months left in their writing and completed them without incident.

Three people committed new crimes, one of which was violent, prison director Michael Carvajal told lawmakers at a Senate judicial hearing in April. About 150 people were returned to prison for other violations. It includes about 20 people who left the designated home without permission.

Kevin Ring, president of the criminal justice advocacy group FAMM, was formerly known as a family member who opposed the mandatory minimum amount due to technical breaches such as online gambling and remittances to other prisoners in prison. People questioned the wisdom of the incident sent back. A case of a 76-year-old woman from Baltimore attending a computer training class. “It doesn’t make everyone safer,” he said.

Prison system changes are one of the few areas in Washington that have signed a transpartisan agreement. Republican Senator Charles Grassley has joined the Democratic Party to criticize the January Justice Department’s memorandum.

“Obviously, if they could stay where they were, it would save taxpayers a lot of money,” Grassley said in a hearing. “It also helps people who are not prone to recidivism and allows prisoners to successfully re-enter society as productive citizens.”

Prisoners are usually allowed to serve the last six months of their sentence, or 10%, under house arrest. A legal memo issued by the Trump administration argued that about 4,000 prisoners, who almost certainly last longer than a pandemic, need to return to prison because they do not meet the usual eligibility requirements for house arrest.

Larry Cosmetics, National President of the Federation of Federal Law Enforcement Officers on behalf of Conservation Observers, warned against changing these requirements without proper review.

“It’s good to have the right prison reform and keep up with the times, but we have to do it meaningfully with the right amount of people,” said Cosmetics. “Make sure your system is working and don’t set anyone to fail.”

He also said the release would burden those responsible for monitoring prisoners.

Carvajal said other issues were at stake while the prison bureau supported the reunification of prisoners.

“The point of this is that they will someday return to society,” Carvajal said. “But we also respect the fact that these decisions were imposed by the court’s criminal justice system.”

Inimaichitia, the federal director of the Judicial Action Network in consultation with the Biden campaign on criminal justice, said the prison system needed to be reviewed over the years. She said Biden should not only revoke the note, but also use his enforcement power to pardon the prisoners.

“I’m worried that their commitment to ensuring DOJ’s independence may be hampering their commitment to racial justice and criminal justice,” Chetia said of the Biden administration. “It’s pretty easy. It doesn’t pass bipartisan police law. It’s not a big new presidential action. Just type something on a piece of paper.”

“They don’t take care of me”

For some prisoners, being released under house arrest meant gaining access to life-saving resources and support systems, which they say are lacking from within prison walls.

Jorge Maldonado, 53, who suffers from kidney disease, was released in October because he was particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus due to poor health. He was sentenced to seven years in prison for fraud and theft for five years, many in federal prisons in North Carolina, which was hit hard by the virus.

Maldonado, a veteran of the Desert Storm Operation in the early 1990s, is undergoing dialysis from the abdomen using a catheter for 10 hours a day while waiting for a new kidney for a third kidney transplant.

He said his presence in the suburbs of Orlando, Oviedo, Florida, provided him with the medical care he needed through the Department of Veterans Affairs’ medical system.

However, Maldonado remains in his ruling for 18 months.

“They don’t take care of me as healthy as VA,” he said of the prison office, which has often been criticized for its quality of care.

Maldonado also wondered why he had to return to jail when he had only one and a half years in prison.

“What’s wrong if someone is doing what they need to do and proves they aren’t really a threat to this community or society?” He asked.

Hectman has been sentenced to nine years in prison since he was discovered in 2017 to produce a chemical analog of fentanyl.

“OK,” she expressed remorse for selling to others in Omaha, Nebraska, where she was arrested. “This isn’t a jailbreak-free card, but what it is is an opportunity card.”

In a peaceful home in New Haven, Hectman said he didn’t have to worry about being exposed to the opioids that are common throughout prisons. She starts her day by logging on to her computer in a 10-foot x 12-foot room and working part-time with a former prisoner.

To take a walk in the park or travel 20 yards to get rid of the trash, you need to submit a request to a government contractor.

When she leaves home, she wears a black monitor on her right ankle and activates her phone app, which allows government officials to track her.

Hechtman said he hasn’t missed one of the weekly counseling sessions yet. She remembered that when she was in a minimal security facility in Danbury, Connecticut, she had to wait a few weeks before getting approval for addiction counseling.

“She has hope now, but it wasn’t,” said Catherine Persse, 22-year-old daughter of Hectman, who lives in Montreal. “She needed a support system, and that’s another thing she couldn’t have inside.”

Hectman often points out that liberation to house arrest is not equivalent to absolute freedom. She has never seen Perth or three other children, including her 9-year-old son, who regularly video chats.

She is not allowed to visit them in Canada. She said her relatives had not yet visited her due to the strict quarantine requirements being implemented for the pandemic.

Hectman said he hopes to see them outside the prison’s office for the first time in more than three years before she is sent back.

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