Thousands Freed From Prison Custody As DOJ Implements Sentencing Reform Law More than 3,100 are moving out of the Bureau of Prisons system on Friday and the Justice Department is making other changes to comply with a law passed by Congress last year.


Thousands Freed From Prison Custody As DOJ Implements Sentencing Reform Law

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More than 3,000 federal prisoners are headed home today. They've won early release because of criminal justice law called the First Step Act. NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: The deputy attorney general says meeting deadlines set by the First Step Act seven months ago took a monumental effort, and Jeffrey Rosen says it's not over yet.


JEFFREY ROSEN: Using top-of-the-line research, people and technology, the department intends to implement this law forcefully, fully and on time, with the goal of reducing crime, enhancing public safety and strengthening the rule of law.

JOHNSON: Most of the 3,100 inmates getting out this week committed drug crimes, before racking up good behavior credits that helped pave the way for their release. Toni Bacon works on the issue at the Justice Department.


TONI BACON: In terms of the range of people who have been released in - the largest number are drug offenders, the second group are weapons and explosives, and the third are sex offenders. But there's a very wide range of people who are being released.

JOHNSON: They've been living in halfway houses, getting ready to go home. But about 900 of them will now be subject to immigration detention. Hugh Hurwitz is acting director at the Bureau of Prisons.


HUGH HURWITZ: I can't tell you where they'll go because that's up to states or Homeland Security.

JOHNSON: Another 250 inmates who are very old or very sick have been moved into home confinement or compassionate release. Prison officials often stonewalled those requests before the First Step Act made the process a bit easier. Advocates for overhauling the justice system welcome those changes, but they say Congress should weigh in to make sure the Justice Department is living up to its promises. Inimai Chettiar is policy director at the Justice Action Network.

INIMAI CHETTIAR: There's a lot of skepticism around whether this Justice Department is going to fully implement the law, and so we definitely believe that Congress needs to step in and ensure that this is happening and to also fully fund the law.

JOHNSON: After protests from advocates, DOJ says it has moved $75 million from other prison programs to help fund the First Step Act this year. Chettiar says that leaves a big question for 2020 and beyond.

CHETTIAR: The only way that these recidivism reduction programs are going to be effective is if they are fully funded.

JOHNSON: Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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