Thousands of U.S. Prisoners to Be Released This Month

October 6th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

The U.S. Justice Department will soon begin the release of an estimated 6,000 federal prisoners, a move that will both address overcrowding and free thousands of inmates incarcerated for drug related offenses, the Washington Post reports.

A majority of prisoners will be ferried to halfway houses and home confinement situations before being fully released, the paper reported, in what is the largest single release of federal prisoners on the books. The process will take place between October 30 and November 2, and it will be overseen by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP).

According to the Post, the release follows a retroactive restructuring of sentencing policies for federal crimes made last year by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which sets those policies. That change came last year with a unanimous vote by the commission following testimony by former attorney general Eric Holder, judges, lawyers, law enforcement officials, and criminal justice reform advocates.

But it also comes amid broader shifts in the approach to criminal justice and fair sentencing. Two high-profile instances of top-down reform efforts include President Obama's initiative to grant clemency to some nonviolent drug offenders, which already resulted in the release of 89 inmates, and the newly introduced bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation backed by key Senators.

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The retroactive sentencing guidelines could ultimately lead to the release—or at least the qualification—of nearly half of the 100,000 drug offenders serving time in the nation's federal prisons. Over the next year, the commission estimates that 8,550 inmates will be eligible for release. Drug offenders represent a majority of federal prisoners, according to the BOP, with federal prisons getting about one-third of the Justice Department's $27 million budget.

Reached by phone Tuesday morning, a federal Bureau of Prisons spokesperson confirmed that around 6,000 inmates would indeed be released in that time period, but declined to comment further. The spokesperson said the agency had been working with the Washington Post, but did not have an official comment as yet.