Violent Offenders, Non-Citizens Among 6,000 Federal Prisoners to Be Released

PHOTO:A Canon City Inmate working for Colorado Correctional Industries awaits entrance into a greenhouse housing tilapia fish at the East Canon City Prison Complex, in Canon City, Co., Nov.30, 2010.Andy Cross/Denver Post/Getty Images
A Canon City Inmate working for Colorado Correctional Industries awaits entrance into a greenhouse housing tilapia fish at the East Canon City Prison Complex, in Canon City, Co., Nov.30, 2010.

The Department of Justice today confirmed that the doors of federal prisons all over the country will swing open for an estimated 6,000 drug offenders at the end of this month.

It is the largest-ever one-time early release of federal prisoners, and it comes as a result of U.S. Sentencing Commission and Obama Administration efforts to reduce long prison sentences given to drug offenders. It is also part of an effort to cut down jail overcrowding.

It is not just non-violent offenders who are getting their freedom, a Justice Department spokesman said -- some of those being released have been convicted of violent crime, along with drug crimes.

But the vast majority are non-violent offenders, officials said. And the sentence reductions were not for the violent portion of offenders' sentences.

However, all of the prisoners who petitioned for release had to have a public safety determination made by a judge.

The judge could elect to release the prisoner, or to keep him or her locked-up.

About one-third of the prisoners to be released between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2 are non-citizens, the Department of Justice said, and they will be turned over to Immigration and Customs officials for deportation.

Most of the former prisoners who are released into the community will still be supervised through a halfway house or home confinement, according to Justice Department officials.

“The Department of Justice strongly supports sentencing reform for low-level, non-violent drug offenders," said Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in a statement today. "The Sentencing Commission's actions - which create modest reductions for drug offenders - is a step toward these necessary reforms.”

Yates also emphasized that even with these sentence reductions, the drug offenders in question have served substantial sentences. On average, according to DOJ, each inmate has already served 8.5 years of a 10 year sentence.

A similar program was undertaken in 2007 when inmates were released for sentences for crack were deemed too harsh.