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Justice Department to free 6,000 federal drug offenders

meghan 2015-10-07 0 comments

In the largest one-time release of federal prisoners, the Justice Department will be releasing approximately 6,000 inmates nationwide from October 30th and November 2nd.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission—the group responsible for setting sentencing policy for federal offenses—reduced punishments for future drug offenders in 2014 and then made the policy change retroactive. They estimate that future releases could include nearly half of the nation’s 100,000 federal drug offenders, including as many as 8,550 over the next year.

The policy change responsible for the freeing of these individuals is referred to as “Drugs Minus Two.” Judges use a numeric system when applying sentencing guidelines, which include factors such as criminal history and whether a weapon was used in the offense. Under the new guidelines, the value attached to the majority of drug trafficking crimes was decreased by two levels. Here, the amount and type of drug hold far less weight than previous sentencing policies.

It is estimated that judges nationwide are reducing sentences at a rate of 70 cases per week. Inmates are required to petition a judge to receive the sentencing reduction, with an average of two years being shaved off previous sentences.

The 2014 shift in policy came after a unanimous vote by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, where two public hearings were held and included testimony from former Attorney General Eric Holder, judges and public defenders at the federal level, state and local law enforcement officials, and advocates for sentencing change. Tens of thousands of public comment letters were also received.

The new sentencing guidelines are being widely perceived as an attempt to develop more effective policies, rather than the severe mandatory minimums that have run amok in federal courts and led to mass incarceration of drug offenders, many of whom are non-violent.

The Bureau of Prisons will be releasing approximately 2,000 inmates who are foreign citizens and set to be deported. The other 4,000 inmates will be transitioned to halfway houses and home confinement prior to being placed on supervised release.

In an effort separate from the aforementioned, President Obama has commuted the sentences of 89 non-violent drug offenders. In a Facebook video from July 2015, he addressed the disproportionate sentences, saying,“These men and women were not hardened criminals, but the overwhelming majority had been sentenced to at least 20 years.”