Thousands of prisoners across America are going to have the opportunity to spend the holidays with their families, not just this year, but for the rest of their lives.
This news came out following the U.S. government’s decision to modify sentencing guidelines for non-violent drug offenders, reducing jail time to as little as 2 years.
— CNN (@CNN) October 31, 2015
This new law, which was approved by the United States Sentencing Commission in 2014, calls for the reduction of federal drug sentencing guidelines by two levels in an effort to address the overpopulation problem in U.S. prisons. The amendment has since taken effect on November 1, 2015.
Tens of thousands of inmates consisting of mostly African-American and Hispanic males are currently incarcerated for drug trafficking offenses. The first wave of release commenced on Friday and was completed today, totaling more than 6,500 federal prisoners set free. However, only about 4,300 of that total are going to be released straight from prison to complete freedom; the rest have been transferred to halfway houses or put on house arrest.
More releases are reportedly expected to take place in the coming months.
Apart from reducing federal prison inmate population, which currently stands at more than 200,000, the goal of this initiative is to give non-violent crime offenders a chance at a clean slate in American society.
The US tops the rankings globally, with 2.2 million prisoners in its criminal justice system. SA ranked 11 https://t.co/eACx29sEkQ
— BekeZela PhaKaThi (@bekezeep) November 3, 2015
The Obama administration for its part has forwarded to Congress a bill that aims to cover a broader spectrum of drug-related policies. If passed into law, mandatory sentencing guidelines would be reset and judges would gain the authority to apply reductions retroactively on drug-related sentences.
During an official visit at the Integrity House drug addiction treatment center in Newark, New Jersey, Mr. Obama recognized the “good work” that the establishment has done in helping former inmates integrate themselves into society. He also discussed criminal justice reform and the steps he intends to take to put the new law into action.
The president gave a speech on the issue.
“Every year, we spend $80 billion in taxpayer dollars to keep people incarcerated. Many are non-violent offenders serving unnecessarily long sentences. I believe we can disrupt the pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails…. We can help those who have served their time and earned a second chance get the support they need to become productive members of society.”
He revealed that part of the reforms involves making sure that federal agencies will not refuse applicants who are former convicts and providing easier access to educational and housing programs.
Reintegration of convicts is a major issue that still concerns a lot of Americans. Critics of the new sentencing policy have pointed out that the government does not have enough resources for the newly-released inmates in terms of job training, housing, and rehabilitation.
— WTIC 1080 (@WTIC1080) February 7, 2015
However, former convicts like Emilio Parker, who entered prison at the young age of 17 and got released another 17 years later, re-building his skill set was vital to his new life outside jail.
Right now, Parker works as a recovery coach with Unlimited Visions rehab facility, helping well-behaved former inmates re-enter the workforce.
In Ohio, newly-released felon Jeanne Davis is also looking forward to get back on her feet and be a part of her family’s life again. After serving time starting 2011 for crack cocaine trafficking charges, she is now free to start fresh.
“Our past doesn’t define us,” said Davis. “We’re able to change our lives as long as we put our minds to it. We can be productive out here.”
Prior to being completely released, Davis spent time at the Alvis House, nonprofit residential organization, where she underwent family-focused support programs that included educational courses and behavioral treatment.
“I don’t think I’ll re-offend,” Davis said. “I’ve learned how to live a better life.”
[Image by Justin Sullivan, Getty Images]