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Change in Sentencing Guidelines Allows for Early Release of Federal Drug Inmates

Inmate released from jail

Over the weekend of October 31st-November 1st, some 6,600 federal inmates serving sentences for drug-related crimes were released early from prison. The releases came as a result of changes to sentencing guidelines for convictions of drug offenses, which were retroactively applied on a selective basis to current inmates. Over the next few years, another 40,000 federal inmates will also be eligible for early release under this new sentencing regime.

Roughly half of all federal prison inmates are serving terms for drug-related offenses. After many years of recognizing the need for reforms to federal drug sentencing guidelines and to reduce the federal prison population, the U.S. Sentencing Commission made the changes last year. This allowed the federal government one year to plot out how exactly the releases would be completed, determine who qualified for release, and decide where inmates would go after their release.

Federal drug sentencing guidelines have long come under scathing criticism for imposing unnecessarily long sentences on low-level drug dealers, while simultaneously proving ineffective in reducing drug crime. The long sentences also result in high costs to taxpayers in incarceration expenses, and are burdensome on those communities most affected. According to researchers, early release is not any more likely to result in a return to prison for those released than does being forced to carry out an entire sentence.

Current federal prisoners whose sentences would be different under the revised guidelines were instructed to begin applying for early release under the program beginning when the guidelines were first introduced. The applications, alongside the applicants’ criminal records, are then reviewed by federal judges to determine whether or not the applicant appears as though they would be safe to release. Officials report that between the initial opening of the application period and August 2015, 75% of all applications for early release have been granted. Many of those released will first spend time in a halfway home or on home arrest as a way to confirm that they will not pose a danger to society.

If you believe that you or your loved one may be eligible for early release, or if you need assistance on a separate criminal matter, contact Chicago criminal defense attorney John Fairman for a consultation at 708-799-4848.

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