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When the pandemic is “over,” released prisoners fear what’s next

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Kendrick Fulton is caught between two worlds — a productive member of the community and a current federal inmate.

“So you’re free, but maybe with little stars?” reporter Matt Grant asked Fulton in February, the two sat across from each other on a bench in Round Rock.

“With a big asterisk,” Fulton replied.

Fulton, a truck driver who recently relocated to the Dallas area from Round Rock, said he has a decade to serve his nonviolent drug offense conviction. He was released under the CARES Act in 2020 to help slow the spread of COVID-19 but fears he will have to return after the pandemic ends – a concern that has increased this week.

“We’re certainly just out of the pandemic phase in this country,” said White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci before coming back to it later.

“It’s a mixed blessing, isn’t it?” said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a nonprofit dedicated to criminal justice reform and clemency for prisoners like Fulton. “We want the pandemic to be over… There was a lot of concern for people locked at home under the CARES Act that they would all go back to prison.”

Kendrick Fulton, who works as a truck driver, delivers soda in the Austin area in this September 2021 file photo. (KXAN Photo/Matt Grant)

This week the White House commuted the sentences of 75 people – many of whom were being held at home for nonviolent drug offenses.

“These pardons and commutations reflect the President’s belief that our nation must provide meaningful redemption and rehabilitation opportunities for people who are incarcerated,” White House Counsel Dana Remus said at a roundtable during the “Month of… second chance”.

“There are just too many people serving unreasonably long sentences,” she added, “for nonviolent drug offenses. A disproportionate number of them are black and brown.”

Ring praised the move but said it didn’t go far enough. His organization is calling for clemency for all prisoners released under the CARES Act.

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“Someone like Kendrick Fulton who was out there… and was successful,” Ring said. “There’s no reason to send him back on the pretense that he needs more programming. He’s better on the outside than on the inside.”

In a statement, the Federal Bureau of Prisons cites a memo from the Justice Department noting that it will have “discretion to keep inmates in home confinement post-pandemic.”

“Once the pandemic has been declared, the BOP will make individual decisions,” the BOP said in a statement.

A BOP spokesman clarified that the pandemic must be declared “over” by the President.

It’s unclear how these “individualized provisions” are being made about who can remain under house arrest and who has to go back. Ring wants the decision to be based on how the person is doing in home confinement, rather than how much time is left on their sentence.

Meanwhile, uncertainty about what will happen next leaves thousands of prisoners in limbo.

“The best response for Kendrick and others like him is to have a sentence commuted by the president,” Ring said. “That settles this matter once and for all.”

https://www.kxan.com/news/texas/when-pandemic-is-over-released-prisoners-fear-whats-next/ When the pandemic is “over,” released prisoners fear what’s next

Joel McCord

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