Thousands of Non-Violent Drug Offenders to be Released from U.S. Prisons

By Zachary Siegel 10/07/15

The Justice Department took its biggest step yet in unwinding the drug war.

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America’s prisons are overcrowded with people who have received unduly harsh sentences for non-violent drug crimes. In an attempt to do justice, the Justice Department recently announced a plan to release 6,000 inmates early from prison.

The Bureau of Prisons will set inmates free from federal prisons nationwide between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2. After their release, many former inmates will move into halfway houses or be on temporary home confinement.

This will be one of the single largest discharges of inmates from federal prisons in American history. The release comes at a time where many are critical of the prison-industrial complex, which disproportionately incarcerates the poor and people of color.

“Today’s announcement is nothing short of thrilling because it carries justice,” said Jesselyn McCurdy, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, to The Times. “Far too many people have lost years of their lives to draconian sentencing laws born of the failed drug war. People of color have had to bear the brunt of these misguided and cruel policies. We are overjoyed that some of the people so wronged will get their freedom back.”

The United States Sentencing Commission's reduced the penalties for many non-violent drug crimes. This change was allowed to be applied retroactively to prisoners serving harsh sentences under draconian drug laws.

Under these new guidelines, prisoners are capable of asking federal judges to reevaluate their sentences. The inmates’ behavior in prison will be examined and the judges will decide whether they are likely to be violent upon their release.

The planned release is not without its critics. Some federal judges, prosecutors, and police officials are concerned that allowing this many inmates to be released at once may cause a spike in crime.

While this is mere speculation, many have rebutted with studies that show if prisoners are released into welcoming environments, with ample job opportunities and other resources, they are less likely to recidivate.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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