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As drug sentencing guidelines change, concerns mount over the rights of foreign inmates

According to The Sentencing Project, as of 2013, an estimated 2.2 million people called a U.S. prison or jail home. This number is higher than incarceration rates in any other country and equates to a 500 percent increase within the last three decades. In an effort to reduce the U.S. incarceration rate, in 2014, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to "redraw federal sentencing guidelines for some drug offenses." In accordance with the new sentencing guidelines, thousands of nonviolent drug offenders who are serving out prison sentences are slated for early release.

Under the new sentencing guidelines, the release of the first wave of inmates began on Oct. 30. Over the course of the next few weeks, a total of 6,112 individuals, many of whom were serving lengthy prison sentences for drug offenses, will be released from prisons across the U.S. Of those individuals scheduled to be released, an estimated 1,780 are not U.S. citizens.

Upon their release, these foreign nationals will immediately be handed over to U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement agents. While the Obama administration insists that a transfer to ICE custody is "a routine occurrence," there is growing concern among immigration rights advocates about the fates of these individuals and whether their legal rights to due process will be respected and upheld.

Of those foreign inmates scheduled for early release, deportation orders have already been issued and finalized for 763. The remaining foreign nationals will be handed over to the ICE officials and transferred to detention centers where members of the American Civil Liberties Union worry they will not be afforded the "opportunity to consult with an immigration attorney and contest their removal in court."

Source: Reuters, "Mass release of U.S. prisoners spells deportation for hundreds," Julia Harte and Julia Edwards, Oct. 31, 2015

The Marshall Project, "What You Need to Know About the New Federal Prisoner Release," Oct. 29, 2015

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