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6,000 Inmates Set Free by Justice Department

In the largest release of federal prisoners at one time, the Department of Justice will release 6,000 inmates at the close of the month. Due to the new sentencing guidelines for drug crimes established last year, along with an effort to reduce overcrowding in prisons, federal prison inmates nationwide will go free between Oct. 30th and Nov. 2nd.

“Even with the Sentencing Commission’s reductions, drug offenders will have served substantial prison sentences. Moreover, these reductions are not automatic,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said in a statement. “Under the Commission's directive, Federal judges are required to carefully consider public safety in deciding whether to reduce an inmate’s sentence."

The new guidelines from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent agency that creates policies for federal crimes, are intended to reduce punishment on certain nonviolent drug offenders, in addition to any future offenders.

This action by the commission is separate from President Obama’s decision to grant clemency to certain nonviolent drug offenders, a decision that resulted in the early release of 89 inmates thus far.

While the release of 6,000 prisoners appears substantial, it’s only the first round. The commission estimated this sentencing guideline change could eventually result in 46,000 of the nation’s approximately 100,000 drug offenders in federal prison qualifying for early release.

The release comes after a nationwide shift and bipartisan consensus that mass incarceration has failed and should be reversed.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously for the reduction last year after holding two public hearings in which members heard testimony from then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., federal judges, federal public defenders, state and local law enforcement officials, and sentencing advocates. The panel also received more than 80,000 public comment letters, with the overwhelming majority favoring the change.

While “a majority” of the inmates granted release will be transferred to halfway houses and, in certain cases, drug rehabilitation centers, approximately one-third will be handed over to ICE to face possible deportation, according to an official. The individuals released at the end of the month will also face a normal probationary period and supervised release.

Anthony Papa, a spokesman at the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports the relaxation of certain drug sentencing laws, said, “It warms my heart to hear that 6,000 people will be coming home.”

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