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Well, well: Criminal justice ‘reform’ wasn’t about ‘non-violent’ offenders after all

Illegal immigration has tripled, discretionary spending has shot up 20 percent, and there is no border wall. But hey, this administration is now releasing violent federal prisoners that even the Obama administration declined to release.

Last year, Conservative Review was the only scorecard to score against the “First Step Act,” a bill that will lead to the early release of numerous dangerous criminal who have graduated from the state to the federal system. The bill reduced mandatory sentences for many of the worst repeat drug traffickers targeted by federal prosecutors during the worst drug crisis in American history. It also expanded the safety valve, which allows judges to avoid the mandatory sentencing altogether, to include people who potentially have a significant criminal history, as opposed to first-time criminals.

The crown jewel provision of the bill offered numerous back-end early release programs that apply retroactively so that many drug traffickers and many other dangerous criminals in the federal system can serve at least one-third of their sentences in home confinement or full release into parole.

At the time, proponents of the bill said this was all about reducing the prison population of first-time, low-level, non-violent drug offenders. At the time, I explained in an exhaustive series of articles on the bill and the broader issues that those serving time in the federal system on drug, weapons, and racketeering charges are neither first-time, non-violent, nor low-level. I pointed out that if your goal is reducing the prison population rather than preserving public safety, then by definition, you would have to release violent prisoners, especially those in the federal system.

I stood alone on the outside last year, and Sens. Tom Cotton and John Kennedy stood alone in leading the fight in the Senate on the inside. Today, we are proven right. As the Department of Justice releases the first 3,100 under the new early release programs, it is becoming clear that many violent offenders are going to be released into communities throughout our country without a single metric of “recidivism reduction” programs doing anything to change these people.

Fox News is now reporting that of 2,243 inmates released on Friday, “only 960 were incarcerated for drug-related offenses.” Among those released were:

  • 496 in prison for weapons/explosives-related crimes,
  • 239 for sex offenses,
  • 178 for fraud/bribery/extortion,
  • 118 for burglary/larceny
  • 106 for robbery,
  • 59 for homicide/aggravated assault, and two for national security reasons.

Remember, these are just the ones convicted of violent offenses. Most of those serving time for drugs or other charges in the federal system pleaded down from more serious charges or had extensive criminal records in the state system, prompting federal prosecutors to pursue them on federal charges so that they would not be let back on the streets.

At the time, proponents of the bill promised nobody would get early release. But those released under this first wave are the ones who benefited from the provision that retroactively increased “good time credits” from 47 days per year to 54 days per year. While some would suggest that they would be released over time within the next year anyway, what this move did was dump them all out into local communities at once rather than staggering them. Once the other provisions of the bill kick in, people will be let out as early as two-thirds of the way through their sentence.

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