JANESVILLE (WKOW) -- Thousands of non-violent, federal prisoners could be eligible for early release under updated clemency guidelines announced by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The new clemency review procedures, announced in April, could lead to early release for non-violent federal inmates who have served at least 10 years in prison provided they don't boast significant criminal histories and lack ties to any gangs or drug cartels.
Those who meet the guidelines will see their applications for clemency prioritized, according to the DOJ.
Rock County Sheriff Robert Spoden said he thinks the updated guidelines are a good idea, noting the typically high cost of incarcerating each inmate.
"The US has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world," Spoden said. "I've always felt prison should be for people who are dangerous and scare us. It shouldn't be for people that are irresponsible and have drug problems.
Spoden said many non-violent drug offenders are currently serving long, federal sentences based on minimums implemented in the 1980's during a nationwide crackdown on drugs.
Adam Stevenson, a professor of law at the UW-Madison, said pardon attorneys at the DOJ will be tasked with reviewing what are expected to be thousands of clemency petitions.
"If you meet the criteria, you will get your foot in the door," Stevenson said.
Spoden said he hopes the DOJ will also put plenty of effort into preparing those tabbed as eligible for early release ahead of their returns to society.
"If you're going to be releasing 1-thousand, or 15-hundred, individuals then the transition from prison to the community has to be taken into account," Spoden said.
"How are they going to fit into society after being gone so many years? What job skills have they been provided?" Spoden said. "That are things that have yet to be answered and that do concern me."
Spoden said the Rock County Jail provides inmates with counseling and job application training before they're released.
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