Federal inmates released early, committing new crimes

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A federal decision aimed to reduce the sentences of “non-violent” drug offenders and alleviate overcrowding issues has backfired in a way that could impact every community nationwide.

That’s according to First District Attorney General Tony Clark, who says convicted felons released under this program in our area have already reoffended.

In April 2012, the United States Sentencing Commission decided to reduce the sentence of non-violent drug offenders, impacting those already incarcerated.

News Channel 11 addressed concerns surrounding this federal early release program in June, but in the months since, Clark told us those concerns have come true, pointing to real examples, in our area, of criminals released last year who have reoffended.

Clark says the federal move is undoing years of work it took prosecutors to put put those offenders behind bars.

“We’re reaping the tragedies of what’s happened, by these people being released early,” Clark said.

Clark said since federal prisoners were released last year, he’s seen firsthand a terrifying reality.

“8-10 of them are involved in drug dealing now, some have been charged, some are being investigated.”

Just hours away in Chattanooga, “Someone…who should have been spending time in a federal penitentiary, was released early by President Obama’s program, and that person is now charged with a murder.”

The amendment went into effect November 1, 2014, “to lower the sentencing guidelines for drug offenses by two (2) levels.”

Early release, intended for non-violent drug offenders. But Clark says there’s no such thing.

“Most of the drug dealers are armed, most of them use violence, people are killed over drugs, so to say that drug dealing, just because they’re incarcerated for a non-violent drug offense I think is a misnomer. And it’s a mistake,” Clark said.

Since the federal change, inmates have the opportunity to petition the court from which they were convicted to be released early. Over the last year, thousands of petitions have poured in creating a backlog in U.S. Attorney’s offices – the closest, located in Greeneville.

“They’re spending more time now answering these petitions than they are prosecuting new cases,” Clark said.”

Back in June, Federal Community Defender Beth Ford told News Channel 11, “Sentences do not have to be extremely long in order for a person to be rehabilitated.”

Clark has his doubts.

“Some of these people may get out and be members of the community that work and have jobs, but I don’t see that happening. The stats are not there,” Clark said.

We’re told in the Eastern District of Tennessee, 20-30 federal inmates were released early last year under this program. Come November, another 250 are expected, of the roughly 8,000 slated to be released nationwide.

Clark: “It’s affecting everyone.”

Kylie: “And they don’t even know it.”

Clark: “And they don’t know it.”

“This is just the beginning. And the estimates are, over the next year to year and a half, 20,000 federal inmates will be released early under this program,” Clark said.

The beginning, of what he fears will be a disastrous end.

“You name any kind of criminal activity that could be occurring, and there’s going to be more of it. Across our district. And across the country.”Copyright 2015 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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