US Attorney General Merrick Garland
CNN  — 

Thousands of federal inmates who were released from prison to complete their sentence from home as a preventative measure to combat the spread of Covid-19, will be allowed to remain on home confinement, the Justice Department announced on Tuesday.

Since March 2020, the federal Bureau of Prisons has placed more than 36,000 inmates on home confinement, according to the agency’s website. While more than 25,000 have completed their sentences, 7,700 remain on home confinement.

In January, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel concluded that when the pandemic emergency ends, BOP would be required to recall all prisoners placed in extended home confinement who are not otherwise eligible for home confinement.

The office reversed that ruling Tuesday.

Attorney General Merrick Garland personally read the CARES Act statute and asked the OLC to reconsider its earlier opinion given his reading of the law, according to a Justice Department spokeswoman. The attorney general also met with several people who are on home confinement on Tuesday to learn about their experience and how it could be improved.

“Thousands of people on home confinement have reconnected with their families, have found gainful employment, and have followed the rules,” Garland said in a statement Tuesday. “In light of today’s Office of Legal Counsel opinion, I have directed that the Department engage in a rulemaking process to ensure that the Department lives up to the letter and the spirit of the CARES Act.”

Whether inmates on home confinement would be sent back to prison has been a hot-button issue with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who have questioned BOP policies and why more inmates haven’t been released, either on home confinement or compassionate release.

The Justice Department’s OLC, in its released opinion, concluded that “BOP’s preexisting authorities does not require that prisoners in extended home confinement be returned en masse to correctional facilities when the emergency period ends.”

Garland went on to say, “We will exercise our authority so that those who have made rehabilitative progress and complied with the conditions of home confinement, and who in the interests of justice should be given an opportunity to continue transitioning back to society, are not unnecessarily returned to prison.”

This story has been updated with additional details Tuesday.