The Justice Department is preparing to release thousands of federal inmates serving sentences for drug crimes next month in an effort to ease overcrowding and reduce harsh penalties given to drug dealers decades ago, officials said Tuesday.
The scheduled release, which will occur Oct. 30 to Nov. 2, is one of the biggest releases of inmates from federal prisons in history, according to the New York Times. More than 5,500 inmates will be set free. And those inmates could be the first of tens of thousands to be released, The Washington Post reports.
The Bureau of Prisons is hoping to move the released inmates into halfway houses, an official speaking on the condition of anonymity told NY Times. While the “majority” of these inmates will move to halfway houses, some will move to drug rehabilitation centers and some will be handed to ICE to face possible deportation, according to Fox.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent panel that manages the federal sentencing policy, estimated that prison terms would be cut an average of 25 months, according to The Post.
The commission decided in July 2014 that nearly 50,000 federal inmates locked up on drug charges would be eligible for release or reduced sentences, according to Fox News. The new sentencing guidelines went into effect on Nov. 1.
Under these guidelines, inmates deemed eligible based on the new rules could apply to be released. Then, each case was looked at individually by a federal judge in the district in which the inmate was tried. The judge determined whether the prisoner’s early release would be beneficial to the public.
Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said in a statement that “even with the Sentencing Commission’s reductions, drug offenders will have served substantial prison sentences. Moreover, these reductions are not automatic.” “Under the Commission’s directive, federal judges are required to carefully consider public safety in deciding whether to reduce an inmate’s sentence,” Yates added.
The United States holds a quarter of the world’s prison population. Both Democrats and Republicans agree that there needs to be a decrease in prison spending, which is responsible for one third of the Justice Department’s budget.
Last week, a strong bipartisan group of senators proposed major changes to the current system for imposing required minimum sentences, encouraged by President Obama and several activist groups, NY Times reports. If the changes are made, lawmakers estimated that up to 6,500 prisoners could qualify for re-sentencing.