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April 25, 2014

Some federal prisoners may seek clemency

LEWISBURG — It’s difficult to immediately determine how many inmates at the U.S. Penitentiary at Lewisburg may seek clemency under a U.S. Justice Department proposal to free nonviolent federal prisoners who meet certain criteria.

Too many factors exist that prevent such information to be readily available, Chris Burke, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington, said Thursday.

“For us to determine which inmates will self-identify themselves, then fill our surveys and then be screened by the department, there’s no way for us to know that,” Burke said.

The Lewisburg lockup has 1,063 inmates at its main building and 536 at its adjacent, minimum-security satellite camp.

The Bureau of Prisons will notify all inmates of the criteria next week and provide electronic surveys to those who think they deserve clemency, The Associated Press reported.

The Justice Department on Wednesday unveiled a revamped clemency process directed at low-level felons imprisoned for at least 10 years who have clean records while in custody. The effort is part of a broader administration push to scale back the use of harsh penalties in some drug prosecutions and to address sentencing disparities arising from the 1980s crack-cocaine epidemic that yielded disproportionately tough punishment for black drug offenders.

The initiative is part of a broader Obama administration effort to trim the nation’s prison population, ease sentencing inequalities arising from drug possession crimes and deal with high costs.

The United States incarcerates about a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Of the roughly 216,000 inmates in federal custody, nearly half are imprisoned for drug-related crimes.

An ideal candidate would meet six criteria — including no history of violence, no ties to criminal organizations or gangs and a clean prison record. He must also have already served 10 years or more of his sentence and be likely to have received a substantially shorter offense if convicted of the same offense today.

A representative of the Justice Department was unable to be reached for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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