Texas will receive the largest number of inmates who are being freed early from prison in the largest one-time federal prison release, an effort by U.S. officials to reduce overcrowding and provide relief to drug offenders who received severe sentences, according to the Bureau of Prisons.
The 578 inmates who will return to Texas will come from federal prisons in the state and other facilities across the country. The state of Florida will receive the second-largest number of released inmates with 295.
The inmates from the Bureau of Prisons' 120 prisons nationwide will be set free between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2. About two-thirds of them will go to halfway houses and home confinement before being put on supervised release. About one-third are foreign citizens who will eventually be deported, officials said.
The early release follows action last year by the U.S. Sentencing Commission — an independent agency that sets sentencing policies for federal crimes — that reduced the potential punishment for future drug offenders and then made that change retroactive. The commission last year estimated that its change in drug sentencing guidelines could result in as many as 46,000 of the nation’s approximately 100,000 federal drug offenders qualifying for early release. The 6,000 inmates are the first to be released; another 8,550 are expected to be released by Nov. 1, 2016.
Justice Department officials said the inmates are drug offenders who have served an average of 8 1/2 years of their 10 1/2 year sentences, although some of the inmates have served decades and a number of them had life sentences.
In all of the cases, inmates had to petition a judge, who, under a directive of the sentencing commission, had to consider public safety when deciding whether to grant the sentencing reduction.
The shortening of drug offender sentences is part of a national trend to reverse the harsh federal drug sentences that began with the war on drugs in the 1980s. The action is also an effort to reduce the exorbitant costs associated with mass incarceration.
Federal prison costs represent about one-third of the Justice Department’s $27 billion budget. While the U.S. population has grown by about a third since 1980, the federal inmate population has increased by about 800 percent and federal prisons are operating at nearly 40 percent over capacity.