Are There Major Public Safety Risks To Release Of 6,000 Federal Inmates?


As 40,000 federal prisoners are likely to have their drug sentences reduced in the next few years, some critics are concerned that the move could create public safety risks, says the Christian Science Monitor. Until now, debate over the new guidelines has been muted, partly due to a lag between when the guideline changes were made a year ago and when the early releases begin. The first batch of 6,000 releases, set for a few weeks from now, is likely to give rise to a larger conversation about the benefits of unlocking prison doors ahead of schedule for people convicted on drug charges. “Six thousand people could be a scary thing,” Mary Price of Families Against Mandatory Minimums told the Huffington Post. “Or it could be a signal that we as a nation are serious about rethinking our approach to crime and punishment.” (The Washington Post reports that Texas will get the largest number of federal inmates freed, 578, followed by Florida, with 295.)

Some research suggests early release programs don't pose a public danger, or at least that risks don't outweigh the fiscal and humanitarian benefits of going easier on drug offenders. Some conservatives note that the early releases begin as dozens of cities have seen spikes in their violent crime and murder rates. For the most part, conservatives have supported moves to ease up on harsh mandatory minimum sentences. “There are positives to locking people up, but there are negatives, too, that we're beginning to address,” said John Malcolm of the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Another view comes from Kevin Ring, a former lobbyist who spent 13 months in federal prison in a bribery case: “Man, there are some broken people who committed a technically nonviolent offense, but that's because they pled down a gun charge. I hate it when we romanticize the prison population, like it's Bill Gates that we're about to set free. Some are really the lowest of the low.”

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