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It's the largest one-time release of federal prisoners in history. In one weekend from October 30th to November 2nd, the Department of Justice will provide early release to about 6,000 prison inmates.
So who are these inmates, and why are they being released early?
Last year, the U.S. Sentencing Commission amended its rules on drug sentences, and then made those new rules retroactive to prisoners already serving long sentences for drug possession. Under this "Drug Minus Two" program, nonviolent federal drug offenders can have two years shaved off of their sentences. In addition to the 6,000 inmates set to be released at the end of the month, another 8,550 inmates would be eligible for release over the next year and could eventually result in early release for some 46,000 drug offenders in total.
The Sentencing Commission's action was in response to prison overcrowding -- there are around 100,000 drug offenders in federal prison -- as well as an overall adjustment in the way nonviolent drug offenders are sentenced.
The program isn't just retroactive: The Washington Post reports the Justice Department "has instructed its prosecutors not to charge low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no connection to gangs or large-scale drug organizations with offenses that carry severe mandatory sentences."
While the choice of the Halloween weekend for a mass prisoner release was an odd one, the DOJ isn't just dumping thousands of criminals onto the streets. Most of those released will go to halfway houses or serve time under house arrest before being place on a supervised release program.
Nor are these inmates being released willy-nilly. Each inmate must petition a judge for a sentence reduction, and not every petition is granted. Additionally, around one-third of all inmates set to be freed under the new program are foreign citizens who will face deportation upon release.
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