The U.S. 2020 Federal Cares Act, (FCA) authorized the release of incarcerated individuals to home confinement to help lower the spread of COVID-19 within the prison system, Reuters reports.
Of the 10,000 people released, 406 violated the terms of their release and were returned to prison.
There were a variety of reasons for people violating the terms of their release, but the majority fit into two categories: 199 for abuse of drugs or alcohol abuse, and 132 were for various administrative offenses, according to the Reuters report.
Several of the individuals who returned to prison filed a lawsuit against the action.
The Reuters report notes that Eva Cardoza, of New York, was returned to prison for possession of marijuana, which is legal in the state.
Cardoza’s fiancé, Eric Alvarez, told Reuters that she had not used marijuana. Alvarez said he believes the test was inaccurate and Cardoza was not given a chance to contest the test results.
Cardoza, who has a teenage daughter and helps care for Alvarez’s four children, has been back behind bars since June 2021.
“Her due process was violated,” Alvarez, told Reuters in a phone interview. “She wasn’t even given an opportunity to go to a hearing or to contest what she was being accused of. That’s not America.”
The prosecutors contend that the violators of the terms should stay in prison, because they have “no protected liberty interest.”
The defense disagrees.
“These cases could help shed light on the black box of how the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) goes about deciding who to re-imprison, and a favorable ruling could certainly lead to additional litigation around the country,” said Marisol Orihuela, a law professor at Yale University, who represents a plaintiff in the suit.
The spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment beyond the court filing in the case, Reuters reports.
The lawyers for the individuals who returned to prison said the officials’ disciplinary approach conflicts with the FCA’s goal to lower mass incarceration and reduce low-level offender sentences.
The litigation could bring on further legal challenges on behalf of the 300 other prisoners who were released and then re-incarcerated for similar low-level offences.