Pubdate: Wed, 07 Oct 2015
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2015 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Timothy M. Phelps, Tribune Washington Bureau
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)


WASHINGTON - The federal Bureau of Prisons plans to release 6,000 
prisoners at the end of October, implementing a decision last year to 
slash the number of incarcerated drug offenders by nearly half.

Officials said the nationwide releases over four days starting Oct. 
30 will be the largest in U.S. history.

Last year, in line with a concerted effort by the Obama 
administration to reduce the number of drug offenders in U.S. 
prisons, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to cut drug sentences 
by an average of two years, potentially affecting as many as 46,000 
out of 100,000 cases.

In the coming year, an additional 8,550 prisoners will be eligible 
for release, according to Sentencing Commission spokesman Matt 
Osterrieder, though he added that not all of them will be approved.

When the mass release was first proposed, some federal prosecutors 
and even then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. preferred a much 
narrower approach.

Under a compromise, the sentencing commission agreed to delay the 
releases until late this year, permitting a more thorough vetting of 
each case. Congress, where sentencing reform has had bipartisan 
support, allowed the changes to go into effect.

On Tuesday, the Justice Department was solidly behind the releases.

"The Department of Justice strongly supports sentencing reform for 
low-level, nonviolent drug offenders," said Deputy Attorney General 
Sally Yates. "The Sentencing Commission's actions - which create 
modest reductions for drug offenders - is a step toward these 
necessary reforms."

But officials said the releases are not limited to non-violent 
offenders, though each release is individually approved by a federal 
judge, who must make a determination that the person is not a threat 
to public safety. So far, Osterrieder said, judges are approving 
about 75 percent of requests for release.

Studies of previous but smaller mass releases in 2007, when sentences 
were adjusted for crack cocaine, showed that the recidivism rate for 
those released early was about the same as those released at the 
completion of their sentences, about 40 percent, Osterrieder said.

Justice Department spokeswoman Emily Pierce said that roughly 
one-third of those released will be deported because they are not 
U.S. citizens. Most of the others will be sent to halfway houses or 
supervised home-release.

The Obama administration and a bipartisan coalition in Congress have 
also been working on reforms to lower the country's incarceration 
rate, one of the highest in the world.

But Obama's 89 clemencies to date constitute a small fraction of the 
roughly 8,000 clemency petitions pending from prisoners. His efforts 
have so far fallen short of expectations set last April, when the 
Justice Department announced the most ambitious federal clemency 
program in 40 years and invited lawyers across the country to help 
tens of thousands of federal drug offenders apply.

A bipartisan group of senators announced agreement on a bill to 
reduce mandatory minimum prison sentences, and a hearing on the 
proposal are expected this month.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom