Sheriffs across the country are voicing outrage and concern for the safety of the citizens they swore to protect after the biggest one-time release of federal inmates in U.S. history. Advocates of criminal justice reform maintain that the release is being handled responsibly, but sheriff’s and citizens have cause for concern about their safety.
This is just the first few thousand. In fact, the U.S. Sentencing Commission estimates about 40,000 prisoners will be eligible for early release in the coming years as prison terms are cut by an average of 25 months.
This mass release is part of what President Obama calls “meaningful criminal justice reform” and a way to fix old drug laws that were unfair.
“Justice means that the punishment should fit the crime. And justice means allowing our fellow Americans who have made mistakes to pay their debt to society, and re-join their community as active, rehabilitated citizens, ” President Obama said in his weekly address.
Easy for Obama to say, they are not being released into his neighborhood.
The 6,112 inmates were released from federal prison at the beginning of November in response to a decision by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce sentences for most drug trafficking offenses and apply them retroactively. It coincides with a broader and bipartisan push for rethinking federal sentencing. (HT MGME)
But the mass release raises immediate practical questions about how the ex-inmates can adjust.
“There’s no transition here, there’s no safety net. This is the biggest sham they are trying to sell the American people,” Sheriff Paul Babeu of Arizona’s Pinal County told FoxNews.com.
“On average these criminals have been in federal prison for nine years — you don’t have to be a sheriff to realize that a felon after nine years in jail isn’t going to be adding value to the community. A third are illegal’s and felons so they can’t work. What do we think they are going to do?” said Babeu, also a congressional candidate.
The government is in fact trying to guide the transition for many. The Justice Department says 77 percent of exiting inmates are already in half-way houses or home confinement.
The November inmates are the first of approximately 46,000 who may have their cases reviewed. Of those released in the first round, the Department of Justice says 1,764 were to be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for deportation proceedings.
Sheriffs on the border front-lines were skeptical of the deportation claim.
“The promise is they’re going to be turned over to ICE and deported. Anyone who thinks there’s any likelihood of them leaving the U.S. … think again,” Babeu said, before saying the president should be held responsible for any crimes committed by those released.
Other sheriffs also challenged the claim that those being released are not a risk to communities.
“If [the Obama administration is] not capable of making honest and prudent decisions in securing our borders, how can we trust them to make the right decision on the release of prisoners who may return to a life of crime?” Sheriff Harold Eavenson of Rockwall County, Texas, told FoxNews.com.
While the average number of inmates being released to any one state is 80, Texas is slated to receive 597 inmates.
The inmates in question had been incarcerated on drug offenses, but the severity of the cases ranged broadly. An Associated Press review last month found while many were low-level drug dealers, some had prior convictions for robbery or were involved in moving serious drugs like cocaine and heroin. WGME in Maine also reported that the group includes a former “drug kingpin” previously listed as one of “America’s Most Wanted,” after his 20-year sentence was reduced.
“For them to tell me or tell citizens that they’re going to do a good job and these inmates are non-violent, when in many instances drug crimes, drug purchasing, drug trafficking are related to other, violent crimes – I’d be amazed if the 6,000 … being released are non-violent,” Eavenson said.
A Justice Department official told reporters at an October briefing that the DOJ was conscious of public safety when granting each inmate early release, adding that every prisoner who applied under these new guidelines underwent a public safety assessment. The DOJ says that the reductions were not automatic, and that as of October, judges denied approximately 26 percent of total petitions.
Adam Shaw is a Politics Reporter for FoxNews.com