- Associated Press - Friday, October 30, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Some ex-drug offenders getting out early under a federal release program are spending little or no time in transitional housing first.

The offenders are among thousands nationally and hundreds in Ohio being released over the next few days under a cost-cutting measure intended to reduce the nation’s prison population.

Dalemar Nicholson is set for release in Columbus on Friday, about four months ahead of his original February release date. He was serving a 12-year sentence for conspiracy to distribute heroin.

Nicholson spent two weeks in Alvis, a Columbus halfway house, where he came from the federal prison in Elkton in eastern Ohio.

Nicholson, 44, went to prison when most cellphones didn’t have Internet capability and social media hardly existed. He’s watched his daughter, now 19, grow up while he was behind bars.

“I’m caught up in the rush,” Nicholson said in an interview Wednesday, referring to the two weeks he spent in transition, compared with other inmates who had weeks or months in halfway houses to prepare. He has a job at a commercial cleaning company but is working with the probation office on a place to live.

“I’m in the corner where, you know what I’m saying, which way do I go?” Nicholson said.

The Justice Department says more than 4,300 inmates are set to go free on or around Nov. 1, the first of what will likely be tens of thousands benefiting from changes approved last year by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

The changes are part of a bipartisan effort to rethink decades-long sentences for drug offenders, who are roughly half the federal prison population.

Of the inmates being released in the next couple of days, 77 percent were in halfway houses or on home confinement, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

Room in halfway houses comes down to availability of beds and the schedule of multiple people involved in the release process, from defense attorneys to judges to prosecutors, said Phelps Jones, deputy chief with the federal probation office for the southern half of Ohio.

Although more time in a halfway house is optimal, Phelps said his agency has been gearing up for months to help these early-release inmates. Probation officers are ready to supply offenders with clothes, food coupons, transportation and emergency housing if they need it, he said.

Lee Aldridge also is at Alvis, but he’s spending nine months there ahead of his release next year nearly four years early from a conviction on conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

Aldridge, 37, is working at an office supplies warehouse and using the transition time to figure out where he’ll live and to reconnect with his three children ages 9, 16 and 19. He considers himself blessed compared to people like Nicholson.

“It’s going to be a hard adjustment for a lot of gentlemen that’s coming out,” he said.

Alvis operates nine halfway houses in Ohio, with facilities for federal inmates in Columbus, Dayton and Toledo. Nicholson’s situation is unusual and likely short-lived as more inmates are released over the next few months, said Phil Nunes, chief programs officer for Alvis.

Regardless of their circumstances, the inmates face a long road, said Gordon Hobson, a federal public defender in Columbus overseeing the cases of the early release offenders. He also worked on a similar early release program in 2008.

“The challenges are enormous for some guy who’s been away for years and he’s coming out and trying to find a stable community and trying to find a job,” he said.

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus .

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This story has been corrected to show that Phelps Jones is deputy chief with the federal probation office for the southern half of Ohio, not the supervising probation officer.

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