Recently in Sentencing Category
With the president and a line-up of his usual antagonists behind the same bill, the momentum for sentencing reform could be unstoppable. The result will be one of the biggest surprises of all the years of the Obama presidency -- a bipartisan success in passing new laws to reduce the nation's prison population.
Attorney General Eric Holder warned Friday that a new generation of data-driven criminal justice programs could adversely affect poor and minority groups, saying such efforts need to be studied further before they are used to sentence suspects.I have disagreed with and criticized Mr. Holder at times, sometimes strongly, but he's right on this. The sentence for a criminal offense should depend on the crime the defendant chose to commit and the crimes he has chosen to commit in the past. That is justice.
In a speech in Philadelphia to a gathering of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Mr. Holder cautioned that while such data tools hold promise, they also pose potential dangers.
"By basing sentencing decisions on static factors and immutable characteristics--like the defendant's education level, socioeconomic background, or neighborhood--they may exacerbate unwarranted and unjust disparities that are already far too common in our criminal justice system and in our society," Mr. Holder told the defense lawyers. Criminal sentences, he said, "should not be based on unchangeable factors that a person cannot control, or on the possibility of a future crime that has not taken place."
See also today's News Scan and the story linked there.
Francois Holloway has spent nearly two decades of a 57-year sentence in a federal prison, for serious crimes that no one disputes he committed. There were armed carjackings, and his participation in an illegal chop shop, where stolen cars would be dismantled and sold for parts.But the fairness of the mandatory sentence has been a matter of dispute, not only for Mr. Holloway, but also for a surprising and most effective advocate: the trial judge, John Gleeson.
The Commission studied offenders released early after a similar 2007 amendment to the guidelines reducing sentences for crack offenders and found that those offenders were no more likely to re-offend than offenders who had served their original sentences.
...policy initiatives curbing over-federalization of criminal law, reforming mandatory minimum sentences and amending the Sentencing Guidelines have the support of the Judicial Conference, but that the Judiciary currently lacks the resources to shoulder resulting increased workload.
"Policy-makers must not create a new public safety crisis in our communities by simply transferring the risks and costs from the prisons to the caseloads of already strained probation officers and the full dockets of the courts," said Judge Irene Keeley, chair of the Judicial Conference Criminal Law Committee."
"The Conference most recently supported, with certain conditions including delayed implementation, retroactivity for the Sentencing Commission's recent amendments to the Drug Quantity Table. Implementing this policy on a retroactive basis will result in many inmates being released from prison and into the custody of probation officers, who work for the Judicial Branch. Without delayed implementation for the Judiciary to seek necessary resources and prepare for this influx of offenders into the probation system, public safety could be compromised."
Very roughly translated, what this means is that we should stand back, take a deep breath, and examine, with patience instead of haste, what the measures already in train (such as lowered present guidelines and DOJ's cutting back on mandatory minimum charges) produce. Will there be big cost savings? Or will there be, as there has been in California, significantly more crime? The Conferences's explicit warning that public safety may be compromised by moving too quickly is a particularly welcome reminder, and should weigh heavily with policy makers.
What's changed the political equation on crime [in the last three decades]? The most important factor is the decline in the crime rate. After surging through the 1980s as the crack epidemic crested, the violent crime rate has fallen almost every year since 1993 and now stands at only about half of what it was then, according to FBI figures. (A separate Bureau of Justice Statistics crime survey shows the violent-crime rate ticking back up over the past two years but still down about two-thirds from its 1993 level.) "We have an incredible opportunity for change because crime is down," says Michael S. Romano, a lecturer at Stanford University Law School.
An estimated two-thirds (68 percent) of 405,000 prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within three years of release from prison, and three-quarters (77 percent) were arrested within five years, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today.
More than a third (37 percent) of prisoners who were arrested within five years of release were arrested within the first six months after release, with more than half (57 percent) arrested by the end of the first year.
As to drug offenders specifically, you have to read down to the seventh paragraph, which states (emphasis added):
Let's be clear then, about what moving up the release dates of drug traffickers by retroactive application of more lenient guidelines is going to do. It's going to produce more drug trafficking, earlier. It's as simple as that.
Recidivism rates varied with the attributes of the inmate. Prisoners released after serving time for a property offense were the most likely to recidivate. Within five years of release, 82 percent of property offenders were arrested for a new crime, compared to 77 percent of drug offenders, 74 percent of public order offenders and 71 percent of violent offenders.