Criminal Justice

Judge rules for grandma on home confinement after arrest for not answering calls during computer class

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A federal judge in Maryland has granted compassionate release to a 76-year-old grandmother on home confinement who was arrested for failing to answer calls from officials during a computer word-processing class.

U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow of the District of Maryland reduced Gwendolyn Levi’s sentence to time served after she was accused of “escape” for failing to answer the calls, report the Washington Post and USA Today.

Levi’s lawyer has said his client thought that she had approval to attend the class and turned off her phone while there, not realizing that she was receiving phone calls.

At the time of her arrest, Levi was living in Baltimore with her 94-year-old mother and volunteering for prisoner-advocacy groups. She had served 16 years in federal prison before her initial compassionate release, according to the Washington Post.

Levi was among more than 24,000 prisoners released to home detention because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She had four years left on her sentence when the Trump administration said inmates with remaining time on their sentences must go back to prison when the pandemic ends, according to USA Today and Sentencing Law and Policy. As many as 4,000 people may have to return to prison.

Levi was in prison for conspiracy to distribute heroin. She was first sentenced to 33 years in prison, but the sentence was reduced to 24 years under the First Step Act, a sentencing reform bill that shortened federal sentences for some drug offenses.

The law also reformed compassionate release, while the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act required a cut in federal incarceration to stop the spread of COVID-19, according to a letter supporting Levi written by Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a nonprofit prisoner advocacy organization, and a press release by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Thanks to the laws, thousands were saved from COVID-19, Ring said.

Sentencing Law and Policy posted Ring’s letter and noted that more judges could grant sentencing reduction motions to those on home confinement who may be required to return to prison.

Levi had only minor disciplinary infractions in prison. She took many classes, worked and completed drug education, Chasanow said. She also has some medical conditions; USA Today noted that she is in remission from lung cancer.

Ring praised Chasanow’s decision in a press release.

“We are so happy for Gwen and her family,” Ring said. “Sending her back to prison for going to a computer class was shameful. She deserves to be home. But this fight is far from over. It’s time for the Biden administration to ensure that the 4,000 people on home confinement get to stay home wither their families, too.”

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