Recent news reports that about 6,000 federal prison inmates will be released next month. This could be seen by some as alarming. However, it is part of a change in sentencing policy that will lead to potentially 46,000 inmates being released early from federal prison.
But the bigger change would be if Congress passes a bipartisen sentencing reform bill, that would permanently reduce the sentences applicable to many drug crimes and reduce some of the mandatory minimum sentences that have contributed to the tremendous growth in U.S. prison population.
Since 1980, the prison population in the federal system has increased by 800 percent, while the nation’s population as a whole only increased 30 percent. This has led to overcrowding in prisons.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) reduced the scoring of the offense level that used by judges to measure the final sentence applied by the judge. The USSC has adjusted some offense levels by a downward departure of two levels.
This was called “Drugs Minus Two.” And this is what has brought about the early release for some inmates, which still required a judge’s approval.
However, the downward departure cannot go below the mandatory minimum sentence set by Congress, which is why the sentencing reform bill is currently pending. Reformers have argued that the draconian sentencing used during the last 40 years of the war on drugs has not succeeded in reducing the availability of drugs and that it has caused great harm.
Critics of the release fear “hardened” criminals will commit new crimes, but research shows there is little difference in recidivism rates for inmates released early from those who serve their full term.
Source: washingtonpost.com, “Justice Department set to free 6,000 prisoners, largest one-time release,” Sari Horvitz, October 6, 2015