The Bush administration squared off against the federal judiciary yesterday over a proposal by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce the sentences of thousands of federal inmates imprisoned on crack cocaine offenses, the Washington Post reports. “My concern is about the  unforeseen consequences of releasing such large numbers of convicted drug offenders into vulnerable communities in a relatively short period of time,” said Gretchen Shappert, U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.
That assertion was disputed by federal judges, public defenders, activists, and several commissioners, who, in asking pointed questions, appeared to indicate a willingness to approve making the new, lenient guidelines retroactive. Commissioner Ruben Castillo said eligibility for sentence reduction did not mean that inmates would automatically have their incarceration time cut, and that Shappert and her colleagues would probably be successful in making sure that violent criminals do not win appeals for release. The U.S. Marshals Service said that if 19,500 prisoners were returned to court for hearings and housed for a month at $65 per day, the cost would amount to $38 million for housing alone. Transportation of the prisoners from prisons and courts across the nation would cost $43 million. The commission is not expected to vote until January.