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 a little asterisks?,” reporter Matt Grant asked Fulton back in February, the two sitting on a bench across from each other in Round Rock.
“With a big asterisks,” Fulton responded.
Fulton, a truck driver who recently moved from Round Rock to the Dallas-area, said he still has a decade left to serve on his conviction for a non-violent criminal drug offense. He was released under the CARES Act in 2020 to help slow the spread of COVID-19 but worries he’ll have to go back once the pandemic is over — a concern heightened this week.
“It’s a mixed blessing, right?,” said Kevin Ring, the president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a non-profit that advocates for criminal justice reform and clemency for prisoners like Fulton. “We want the pandemic over…For the folks who are on CARES Act home confinement, there was great concern they were all going to have to go back to prison.”
This week, the White House commuted the sentence of 75 people — many of whom were on home confinement, convicted of non-violent drug offenses.
“Those pardons and commutations reflect the president’s belief that our nation must offer people who have been incarcerated meaningful opportunities for redemption and rehabilitation,” said White House counsel Dana Remus at a roundtable during “Second Chance Month.”
“There are simply too many people serving unduly long sentences,” she added, “for non-violent drug crimes. A disproportionate number of whom are Black and Brown.”
Ring praised the move but said it didn’t go far enough. His organization is calling for clemency for all inmates who were released under the CARES Act.
“Somebody like Kendrick Fulton who has been out…and has been successful,” said Ring. “There’s no reason to send him back under the guise he needs more programming. He’s doing better on the outside than he could possibly do inside.”
In a statement, the Federal Bureau of Prisons cites a Department of Justice memo noting it “will have discretion to keep inmates on home confinement after the pandemic.”
“Once the pandemic is declared over the BOP will make individualized determinations,” the BOP said in a statement.
A BOP spokesperson clarified the pandemic must be declared “over” “by the President.”
It’s unclear how those “individualized determinations” will be made regarding who gets to stay on home confinement and who will have to go back. Ring wants the decision to be based on how the individual is doing on home confinement instead of how much time is left on their sentence.
In the meantime, the uncertainty surrounding what will happen next, is leaving thousands of prisoners to live in limbo.
“The best answer for Kendrick, and others like him, is to get a sentence commuted by the president,” said ring. “That settles this matter once and for all.”