6,000 Federal Inmates Getting Early Release in October, More to Follow in 2016

LBN’s Bob Donley reports that the federal government will do something unheard of this year for Halloween: It will open prison doors and release 6,000 inmates. The release will be completed by November 2. This is the largest one-time release of federal prisoners in history. Most of them will go to halfway houses or to home confinement. Some of them will be released on supervised care. About a third of those released are foreign citizens who will be quickly deported.

This is just the beginning, Donley says. In 2016, 8,800 inmates will be released. The process of early release for those in prison on drug convictions will continue until about 40,000 federal prisoners are granted early release. About half of all those convicted on drug charges will have their sentences reduced.

The early release process has come about because of a ruling by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that reduced the potential sentences for future drug offenders and then made the ruling retroactive. Donley explains that the ruling of the Sentencing Commission applies only to those convicted of nonviolent crimes. “This means the average sentence is being reduced by a modest two years.”

Still, the change in sentences represents a big change, and one more step in federal policies concerning mandatory sentences. [LBN has previously reported on mandatory minimum sentencing, most recently on October 6.] The change in policy has found support from Democrats, who say the old policies were too harsh, and from Republicans, who say the old way was too expensive. Donley says that about one-third of the Justice Department’s budget of $27 billion is being spent on housing inmates.

More changes will almost certainly come. But at the moment, all of the changes are occurring in the federal system. States are housing 90% of America’s inmates. There is no indication at the moment what the various states will do, if anything, to change their sentencing policies.

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