April 08, 2021

Congresswoman Watson Coleman Leads Bipartisan Letter Calling on President Biden to Reverse “Cruel” Trump Justice Department Legal Memo

Today, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), along with a bipartisan group of 27 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to reverse a legal memo issued in the waning days of the Trump administration that would require thousands of people on home confinement to return to federal prison.

In March 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, which authorized the Attorney General to give people in federal prison extended home confinement in order to save lives and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. These individuals were told they would not have to return to prison unless they violated the terms of their supervision. On January 15, 2021, however, the Trump Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) issued a legal memo that said that the CARES Act requires people on home confinement to return to prison.  

The bipartisan letter reads, in part:  

The vast majority of those people on home confinement today have reunited with their families and are working and contributing to society. They were not told they would have to return to prison and forcing them to do so would be cruel and devastating. Sending thousands of people back to federal prison who have already proven that they do not need to be there would undermine this commitment and would undermine, not advance, public safety. 

"The CARES Act took the appropriate steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by directing thousands of non-violent prisoners to home confinement," said Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12). "Since then, these individuals have not only shown that they can be contributing members of society, they've laid bare the fact that we are imprisoning far too many people in this country. President Biden should reverse the cruel Trump Justice Department Memo and give thousands of families the peace of mind of knowing their loved ones will not be taken away from them." 

Families Against Mandatory Minimums President Kevin Ring thanked Rep. Watson Coleman and her colleagues for calling attention to this urgent issue. “We have heard from anxious family members all across the country who fear that their loved ones are going to be separated from them again, even though they did everything right,” said Ring. “The Trump administration got this wrong and we don’t know why it’s taking President Biden so long to fix this. This is torture for these families.” 

Justice Action Network Federal Director Inimai Chettiar urged the Biden Administration to listen to this bipartisan coalition. “These men and women have safely returned to their families, and contributed to their communities and the nation’s recovery. Tearing them away because of one last-minute memo would be a devastating reminder that our country’s over-incarceration problem is one of our own making. President Biden and the Department of Justice have the authority to keep these families together and we hope they will use it,” she said. 

The letter was signed by Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Kelly Armstrong (ND-At Large), Karen Bass (CA-37), Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), Cori Bush (MO-1), André Carson (IN-7), Steve Cohen (TN-9), Danny K. Davis (IL-7), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Raul M. Grijalva (AZ-3), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Pramila Jayapal (WA-7), Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8), Mondaire Jones (NY-17), Robin Kelly (IL-2), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Grace Meng (NY-6), Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-At Large), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Ilhan Omar (MN-5), Bobby L. Rush (IL-1), Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), Bennie Thompson (MS-2), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Ritchie Torres (NY-15), David Trone (MD-6), and Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-7)

Click here to read the letter in full.