As a part of new federal sentencing guidelines, thousands of federal inmates will soon be released from prisons across the U.S., WMC 5 reports.
The new guidelines only apply to inmates with nonviolent drug convictions. The changes were first introduced by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and were later passed by Congress as part of an effort to reduce the federal prison population and the costs associated with housing inmates. The Bureau of Prisons says 4,131 prisoners will be released starting on Nov. 1.
Most of the revisions in sentencing rules are related to methamphetamine, crack cocaine and powder cocaine, according to figures at the Sentencing Commission. Other figures showed that prisons nationwide are at 32 percent overcapacity. The budget for the Bureau of Prisons is more than $6 billion and about 25 percent of the entire budget for the Department of Justice.
Although the president, prosecutors, senators and police themselves are now calling for criminal justice reform, activists and former prisoners are wary of the abrupt and sudden transition that the released inmates will undergo when they leave prison, according to the Guardian.
“People face enormous challenges just acclimating to society,” said Michael Santos, a former federal prisoner who now lectures at San Francisco State University and who hosts a podcast on the subject of incarceration.
“These people have never seen a smartphone, won’t have an email address, they’ve learned never to smile,” Santos said. “I’m telling you this as somebody who was in prison 26 years, this will be extraordinarily difficult if they don’t have a plan.”
One example of a program that helps former inmates reintegrate into society is Operation New Hope run by Kevin Gay in Florida, where nearly 900 prisoners will be released in the upcoming weekend. The program acts as a mediator between the ex-prisoners, the state and employers to evaluate the prisoners' strengths and weaknesses.
Gay said that work and its byproducts help acclimate prisoners to a society that in many cases, has changed greatly since they were incarcerated. Gay said that with a steady job right out of prison, ex-prisoners are better able to pay child care, reconnect with families and rebuild law-abiding lives with even just a couple of dollars more than minimum wage.