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Biden’s Conservative Vision on Clemency

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When Covid-19 hit, Misty Smith became extra panicked about her twin sister, who was behind bars at a minimum-security facility in Alabama. Both sisters, 41, suffer from sleep apnea, asthma, and high blood pressure. Pre-vaccine, Smith’s doctor told her to isolate by not leaving the house. “If I was to get it, I would probably die,” she said. Her sister, Kirstie, meanwhile, was packed in tight quarters with other women and didn’t have hand sanitizer or a mask.

Kirstie sold meth to fund her addiction. Her sister admits she made a mistake but also urges compassion, explaining that Kirstie sank into a deep depression after her baby strangled on its umbilical cord and died during birth. Kirstie, who asked to be referred to by her first name because she feared speaking to the media might harm her case, fell in with the wrong crowd, and eventually they had her selling to pay for her drugs. In 2017, she was busted and sentenced to eight years and a day behind bars, though she was a first-time offender with no violence in her past, according to her sister. Still, the amount of meth that police found on her was enough to trigger a federal mandatory minimum and get her almost a decade behind bars.

As Covid-19 raged through the prison population—correctional facilities quickly outpaced nursing homes and meatpacking plants as key sites for cluster outbreaks—Smith prayed and prayed. It worked, she says: Kirstie was placed in home confinement under the Cares Act, the massive Covid relief bill that also gave the Bureau of Prisons discretion to send certain people home early. The process involved a rigorous vetting, to ensure that the people chosen were low risk and had served a substantial part of their sentence, and it was effective: Of roughly 4,400 people released under the program, only 190 were sent back for violations, a strikingly low number given how easy it is to break the terms of home confinement. No serious crimes have been reported.

But before Donald Trump left office, administration lawyers determined that once pandemic emergency measures were lifted, Cares Act recipients would have to return to prison. And Biden’s Office of Legal Counsel declined to reverse the memo. Still, advocates were hopeful that Joe Biden would........

© New Republic

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