Prisons across the country will release 6,000 inmates early and the biggest number, nearly 600 of them, are headed to Texas.
The largest one-time federal prison release begins Friday.
The 578 prisoners will return communities across Texas over the course of just four days, Oct. 30 to Nov. 2. Florida will receive the second largest number of released inmates with 295 people.
All of the inmates to be released early are non-violent drug offenders.
“Putting them away for decades is a punishment that’s far too harsh for the crime committed,” said Sarah Pahl-Worthington. A policy attorney at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. Worthington said this is a big step for sentencing reform.
The new federal sentencing guidelines can shorten sentences, free up space in overcrowded prisons and reduce costs that have ballooned along with the prison population.
According to the Department of Justice, the federal government spent $7.4 billion on prisons that were 30 percent overcrowded in 2014.
“Even though it’s a great thing, we really aren’t helping them at all to not re-offend,” Worthington said. She believes Texas doesn’t have the resources to help people reenter into society, post-prison.
People get out of prison and they need to find work and housing but Worthington said that’s not an easy thing to do with the policies in Texas.
“If we continue to screen them out from housing and employment, then we are contributing to the problem,” Worthington said.
The majority of inmates will head to either halfway houses or home confinement and most will report to Federal probation and parole offices but all will be put under some form of supervision.
“It’ll fall into a huge federal crack and the state will absorb it,” said Sheriff A.J. Louderback. Jackson County’s Sheriff, Louderback, is also the legislative chairman for the Sheriff’s Association of Texas.
“I call it a prison break,” Louderback said. Law enforcement agencies all around the state are concerned about public safety.
“We are just left to deal with what happens and our citizens are left to become potential victims in our counties,” Louderback said. “That’s always a concern for Texas sheriffs.”
Louderback said that local agencies can’t do much to plan because they don’t know where the 578 released inmates are going, or how many are coming to their areas.
“The reality is we see very few who that start making better choices, start claiming personal responsibility and going to work and becoming productive citizens,” said Louderback.
This week’s release is just round one; another 8,500 prisoners are expected to be released by November of 2016.
For advocates of sentencing reform, the new guidelines are a step in the right direction, but Worthington said policies need to change so people can actually have another chance at freedom.
“Our society continues to punish people over and over and over again and it’s heartbreaking and it’s wrong,” Worthington said.
Seventy five percent of the prisoners to have their cases processed in federal court were granted shorter sentences and more than 30,000 other federal inmates are eligible for early release.