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March 17, 2006

Interesting testimony at USSC hearing

Though overshadowed by the House Booker hearing on Thursday (basics here and here), the US Sentencing conducted a full-day public hearing on Wednesday, and now nearly all the written testimony from that hearing can be accessed at the USSC website at this link.  Most witnesses at this hearing focused on particular guideline amendments that the USSC has proposed during this amendment cycle.

Notably, Kathleen M. Williams, the Federal Public Defender from the Southern District of Florida, focused her written testimony on the post-Booker forest rather than on the guideline trees.  Here is a notable portion of that testimony (which is available here):

The federal prison population has skyrocketed, rising from 24,000 in 1980 to over 188,000 today, at a cost of over $4 billion per year.  The Federal Bureau of Prisons is now 40% over capacity, has eliminated or restricted many treatment and rehabilitation programs in recent years, and increasingly fails to provide adequate medical care.  Approximately 65% of these defendants — these father, mothers, husbands, wives, sons, and daughters — whom we have incarcerated are Black or Hispanic.

In the wake of Booker, the Commission must re-examine its role and responsibility in this unprecedented social and juridical tragedy.  For eighteen years, and through 680 amendments, the Commission has approved a steady increase in Guidelines sentences.  It has added and increased the impact of aggravating factors year after year, but only rarely added mitigating factors.  Worse, many mitigating factors that were present in early versions of the Guidelines have been removed.  Although Congress mandated some of these changes, most were initiated by the Commission itself.  For example, independent of mandatory minimum laws, by 2002, the Guidelines accounted for 25% of the more than doubling of drug trafficking sentences, the tripling of immigration offense sentences, and a doubling of sentences for firearm possession and trafficking.

March 17, 2006 at 03:33 PM | Permalink

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