For the first time in more than 31 years, Richard DeLisi will be able to spend Christmas with family members.
DeLisi, described as the longest-serving inmate for nonviolent marijuana crimes in the nation, walked out of South Bay Correctional Facility in Palm Beach County, Florida, on Tuesday morning as a free man.
Sentenced in 1989 to a 90-year term in a Polk County courtroom, DeLisi left prison ahead of his scheduled June 2022 release.
“It actually feels like 10 times better than wonderful,” DeLisi, 71, told The (Lakeland, Fla.) Ledger, part of the USA TODAY Network. “It was so unjust what they did to me. I just hope that I can help other people that are in the same situation.”
DeLisi and his older brother, Ted DeLisi, were convicted in 1989 of trafficking in cannabis, conspiracy to traffic in cannabis and a violation of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act. Judge Dennis Maloney sentenced both brothers to three consecutive 30-year sentences, well beyond the recommendations in judicial guidelines.
Ted DeLisi successfully appealed his conspiracy conviction and was released from prison in 2013, but Richard DeLisi’s appeal was rejected.
After leaving the prison, DeLisi gathered with family members and lawyers who had worked for his release. He plans to live with his brother-in-law, Robert Burrows, in Broward County.
Advocates argued that DeLisi should be released because he has multiple health problems and was at risk of dying if he contracted COVID-19 while in prison.
The Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit that advocates for people serving long sentences for nonviolent, cannabis-related crimes, championed DeLisi’s cause and pushed for his release.
The Florida Department of Corrections said the shortening of DeLisi’s sentence had nothing to do with the efforts of any outside parties.
The department reviews inmate records periodically, and a recent review of DeLisi’s records found that he had not been awarded 390 days of provisional release credits for several months immediately following his reception into agency custody in 1989, DOC Press Secretary Kayla McLaughlin said by email. The resulting adjustment moved his release date up to May 13, 2021.
The department also has discretionary authority to restore gain time forfeited during an inmate’s incarceration for disciplinary infractions. McLaughlin said DeLisi forfeited 120 days of gain time for infractions, but his last disciplinary report was in 2005, and he met the general requirements to be considered for restoration.
A rule requires an inmate to be within 120 days of the release date before the restoration can occur, making DeLisi eligible. He received discretionary restoration of lost gain time, pushing up his release to Tuesday.
Lawyers consulting with The Last Prisoner Project compiled a 223-page document in August arguing for DeLisi’s release and sent it to the office of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. That was a supplement to a clemency application DeLisi filed earlier this year.
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