The Justice Department is set to make the largest one-time release of federal inmates, nearly 6,000 prisoners, in an effort to reduce overcrowding and provide relief to drug offenders who received long sentences over the past three decades, the Washington Post reports. The inmates will be freed by the Bureau of Prisons between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2. Most of them will go to halfway houses and home confinement before being put on supervised release. The early release follows action by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which reduced the potential punishment for future drug offenders last year and then made that change retroactive. The commission's action is separate from a White House clemency program for certain nonviolent drug offenders, an initiative that has resulted in the early release of 89 inmates.
The panel estimated that its change in sentencing guidelines could result in 46,000 of the 100,000 drug offenders in federal prison qualifying for early release. The 6,000 are the first group in that process. The Sentencing Commission estimated that an additional 8,550 inmates would be eligible for release by Nov. 1, 2016. Along with the commission's action, the Justice Department has instructed prosecutors not to charge low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no connection to gangs or large-scale drug organizations with offenses that carry severe mandatory sentences. The policy change is referred to as “Drugs Minus Two.” Federal sentencing guidelines rely on a numeric system based on factors that include the defendant's criminal history, the type of crime, whether a gun was involved and whether the defendant was a leader in a drug group. The sentencing panel's change decreased the value attached to most drug-trafficking offenses by two levels, regardless of the type of drug or the amount.