About 6,000 federal inmates whose long sentences were reduced last year will be released at the end of October, marking the start of the most substantial effort yet to reduce America’s gargantuan prison population.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent judicial agency that oversees federal sentencing guidelines, first voted in April 2014 to reduce federal drug guideline sentences in an effort to curb prison overcrowding and excessive punishments. But those amendments applied to about 70 percent of future drug sentences, and did not affect prisoners already serving federal prison sentences for drug convictions.
Amid public pressure from criminal-justice reformers, federal judges, and members of Congress, the commission subsequently voted that July 2014 to make the changes retroactive and allow current inmates to apply for re-sentencing. An estimated 40,000 and 45,000 federal inmates became eligible for lower sentences under the new guidelines. As of this August, 17,446 inmates had applied for the hearings, according to the Sentencing Commission. 13,187 of them, or about 75.6 percent, received sentence reductions under the new guidelines. The federal prison system currently houses over 205,000 inmates; over 1.2 million state prisoners will be unaffected by the change.