WHEELING, W.Va. — Beginning Monday, 44 federal inmates will return to the Northern District of West Virginia pursuant to the United States Sentencing Commission’s decision to modify the sentencing guidelines for certain federal drug offenses.
In 2014, after receiving nearly 80,000 public comments and holding two public hearings, the Commission voted unanimously to modify the sentences of certain federal drug offenders.
“It’s time to implement those modifications,” U.S. Attorney for the Northern District Bill Ihlenfeld said. “This was something that was considered by Congress, and Congress had the opportunity to disapprove this sentencing change. And Congress chose not to disapprove.”
The change became effective November 1, 2014, but the Commission allotted one calendar year for courts and the Bureau of Prisons to prepare for the releases.
“As we always do, we have notified area law enforcement agencies about the release of these individuals,” said Chief U.S. Probation Officer Terry L. Huffman. “We have also entered their names into a national database to ensure that law enforcement everywhere will know that these individuals are under supervised release. While the number of inmates returning nationwide is large, here in the Northern District of West Virginia the number of releases is very manageable.”
Police have been notified in the areas where these individuals are returning.
“This individual is coming back into the community,” Ihlenfeld said. “So that if the police observe anything suspicious at all, they can notify the probation office.”
Approximately 68 percent of inmates returning to Northern West Virginia have already been placed under supervision in halfway houses (43 percent) or home confinement (25 percent).
“Every one of these individuals will be subject to supervised release by the United States Probation Office in the Northern District of West Virginia,” Ihlenfeld said. “The length of these supervised release period will vary based upon each inmate’s sentencing order.”
Approximately 26 percent of inmates returning to Northern West Virginia will be released from prison.
Additional inmates currently incarcerated within the Northern District of West Virginia may be released to other districts or to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for potential deportation.
The Bureau of Prisons and United States Probation and Pretrial Services have collaborated to ensure that all released inmates receive proper supervision and reentry services.
“It will become a part of one supervised release plan,” Ihlenfeld said. “So someone comes out and addiction is identified as an issue. The Probation Office will make sure that person gets the services that he or she needs.”
“The Bureau of Prisons has extensive experience in successfully transitioning inmates back into society,” said U.S. Attorney Bill Ihlenfeld. “We are confident the upcoming release will have a minimal impact upon the communities in Northern West Virginia. We are not anticipating a large influx of prisoners released into our district and those inmates that are released will be closely supervised as they transition back into our neighborhoods.”
The sentencing reductions are not automatic. Federal judges must carefully consider public safety and have the discretion to approve or deny the reduction of a particular inmate’s sentence.
As of July, judges had denied approximately 25 percent of petitions received across the country.
Many of the federal drug offenders will serve substantial prison sentences before they are eligible for release.
“This has been an issue where we have had adequate notice,” Huffman said. “We have had over a year to prepare for these inmates being released, and we are prepared to monitor them once they are released.”
The U.S. Sentencing Commission is an independent agency in the judicial branch
composed of seven voting and two non-voting members. Its principal purpose is to establish sentencing policies and practices for the federal criminal justice system that will assure the ends of justice by promulgating detailed guidelines prescribing the appropriate sentences for offenders convicted of federal crimes.