WASHINGTON — With thousands of people under threat of being forced back into prison after being transferred home during COVID-19 to serve the remainder of their sentences, the American Civil Liberties Union released a poll today showing broad bipartisan support for President Joe Biden to issue clemency to those who were selected to be transferred home under the CARES Act.
During the pandemic, thousands of people have been released from prison to finish their sentences on home confinement, many of whom are elderly or especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Now, thousands are at risk of being sent back to prison when the pandemic recedes if President Biden does not take action. Sending all of these people back to federal prison would be the single largest act of incarceration in U.S. history.
The ACLU poll comes amid multiple reports of frustration among advocates with the Biden administration’s failure to grant clemency to people transferred to home confinement. People on home confinement are complying with the strict requirements of that program. Many of them are thriving at home by reconnecting with their friends, families, and communities, and engaging in civic and professional life.
Among the poll’s findings:
- 63 percent of voters nationally support clemency for those who are serving their sentences at home due to COVID-19;
- Among voters in swing House districts, 70 percent of voters support allowing those who were transferred home to serve the reminder of their sentences at home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19;
- 68 percent of voters nationwide and 58 percent of voters in swing House districts agree that it’s not fair to return people to prison after they have been successfully released to their families and communities and re-entered society;
- 53 percent of Republican voters agree that it’s unfair to release people back to their families and communities and then return them to prison;
- 64 percent of voters nationwide — including 84 percent of Democrats — support using the president’s power of clemency to end or shorten prison sentences of people deemed safe for release; and
- While only 38 percent of independents approve of Biden’s job as president, a majority of them (57 percent) say they would support the president using clemency.
“President Biden ran on a criminal justice reform platform that included a promise to use the powers of the presidency to help end the crisis of mass incarceration,” said Udi Ofer, Director of the ACLU’s Justice Division. “Yet the federal prison population has gone up under President Biden’s watch, and now thousands of people are under threat of being sent to prison because of the administration’s failure to act. Voters support criminal justice reform and support the president using his clemency powers to fix injustices in the criminal legal system. Now it’s time for President Biden to act and use his clemency powers to help people and keep families together.”
The views reflected in our polling are shaped by a pervasive sense that the criminal justice system needs extensive reforms to end America’s mass incarceration crisis and undo decades of inhumane sentencing policies. Underpinning support for clemency is the belief that returning people to prison after they have been successfully returned home under CARES is fundamentally unfair. The ACLU poll highlights that politically, President Biden and House members are on safe ground on the issue of clemency for individuals who were granted home confinement because of the pandemic.
“Voters overwhelmingly reject sending people back to prison who have been carefully vetted and have already successfully re-entered society,” said Danny Franklin, partner at Bully Pulpit Interactive. “With support across Democratic, Republican, and swing districts, clemency for those who returned home under the CARES Act is one of a shrinking number of issues that overcomes the partisan divide”
A copy of the poll results may be found here: https://www.aclu.org/fact-sheet/aclubpi-poll-clemency-people-cares-act-home-confinement
The ACLU’s TV ad on clemency is here: https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/six-figure-aclu-famm-ad-buy-urges-biden-issue-clemency-4000-people-currently-home