Thousands of Drug Inmates to Get Early Release

Thousands of inmates locked up on drug-related offenses are expected to be released early thanks to new sentencing guidelines that are shrinking punishments, according to an Associated Press review of court records.

Many defendants cleared for early release fall into the category of small-time dealers targeted by a draconian approach to drug enforcement.

An AP analysis of roughly 100 court cases also identified defendants who carried semi-automatic weapons, had past convictions for crimes including robbery and assault, moved cocaine shipments across states and participated in international heroin smuggling.

Guidelines set by the U.S. Sentencing Commission provide judges recommended minimum and maximum terms for federal crimes. Ranges for drug offenses were reduced after the independent commission voted last year on the changes, then applied them to already-imprisoned convicts.

The first wave of some 6,000 releases is due around Nov. 1, with most of them coming from halfway houses or home confinement. Others will be released to immigration authorities for deportation.