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February 3, 2008

Is legislation to lower federal sentences a real possibility in 2008?

In this recent post, I hinted at my own pessimism about the prospects of legislation to lower federal sentences during an election year.  But this new article from the Houston Chronicle strike a distinctly more optimistic tone.  Here a excerpts:

The tough-on-crime crackdown of the 1980s and 1990s is getting a second look in Congress. Some lawmakers, including Houston Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, are questioning whether the soaring incarceration rates brought about by changes in federal sentencing laws have actually deterred crimes....

Jackson Lee, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee's crime subcommittee, is part of the vanguard re-examining a criminal justice system that has seen the federal prison population double from 1.1 million inmates in 1990 to 2.3 million today [sic: these numbers are national incarceration, not the federal prison population]....

The momentum for change reaches beyond liberal lawmakers and left-leaning interest groups. The Supreme Court and the Sentencing Commission recently moved to give judges more discretion in sentencing crack cocaine offenders....

Rep. Lamar Smith of San Antonio, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, will be among those standing in Jackson Lee's way.  After the Sentencing Commission's decision to allow judges to retroactively reduce crack offenders' sentences slightly — though not less than the mandatory minimums — Smith introduced his own legislation seeking to block any early releases. "In addition to endangering our communities, allowing the early release of criminals back into society would cripple our re-entry programs by overburdening probation officers and flood the courts with additional litigation," Smith said....

Jackson Lee, who also is pushing to cut prison rates by half for nonviolent federal offenders who are over the age of 45 and have served at least 50 percent of their sentence, said she is hopeful that the new Democratic majority in Congress will be able to prevail on criminal justice changes.  "The question of liberty is so important to me, and the question of having faith in the integrity of the criminal justice system," she said. "There is a sense of urgency to make right which has been wrong, to improve what has not worked, and to find ways to rehabilitate, to protect the American public from crime but at the same time give people a second chance."  Her views are far from universally shared. Jackson Lee acknowledged the legislation faces a strong challenge, though the congresswoman said she has high hopes of getting it into law this year.

For lots and lots and lots of political and practical reasons, I doubt significant sentencing reforms will emerge from Congress in 2008.  But perhaps I am being too pessimistic at a time when everyone seems to be getting on the change bandwagon. 

February 3, 2008 at 02:07 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has the right idea. The current form of S 1060 that the House has delivered to the Senate is way off the mark with regard to the non-violent elderly offenders pilot program. It's not much of a pilot program when the requirements are 65 years of age and that the offender must have served 75% of their sentence to qualify. They get 15% off their sentence for good time served as it is. And there must be data on recidivism after a certain age. I am sure it is lower than 65.

Posted by: Elisabeth Kay | Feb 4, 2008 6:37:34 AM

Elisabeth, the United States Sentencing Commission has done a number of studies of recidivism which can be found at http://www.ussc.gov/research.htm.

Posted by: defense attorney | Feb 4, 2008 11:25:59 AM

My name is Weslyn Alvarez. I am the wife of a non-violent federal inmate. I am writing this because I pray that in the years to come, we look at this issue again and ask ourselves if the long term sentences for these inmates is truley fair. I have seen state cases with violent repeat offenders violen parole and continue to break the law and go back to jail on a year or to parole violation when non-violent offenders are spending 10 years+ and not given the oppertunity to change. The fact of the matter is that they will be so old when they are released that they woudl be to old to break the law but I would like to know if there is anything else that can be done.

Posted by: Weslyn Alvarez | Feb 29, 2008 10:57:54 AM

I am a CSU Professor.
I truly believe that first time offenders should be given a second chance, based upon their LIFE CHARACTER. The sentencing guidelines are too harsh. Many of these offenders did not even realize the severity of their crimes, thinking it more of a moral issue. Well, they did wrong and will pay for it, but the Fed. gov't needs to show some justice, to abide by their "Plea Bargaining" situations. They seem to decide that one is guilty even before the trial. Then that so-called "Plea Bargain' doesn't mean a thing! Pete, a retired man who has put in 30 years of extremely hard labor, lived frugally and saved money, owns his own home, contributes taxes to the community, contributes to goodwill non-profit organizations, and has never broken any other laws in his entire life (not even speeding) deserves to be given a second chance! He has never touched anyone nor would he ever harm anyone. He just used the internet in the privacy of his own home ... not realizing its impact on the rest of his life!

Posted by: Carol Hartman | Jul 27, 2008 6:09:35 AM

I am a CSU Professor.
I truly believe that first time offenders should be given a second chance, based upon their LIFE CHARACTER. The sentencing guidelines are too harsh. Many of these offenders did not even realize the severity of their crimes, thinking it more of a moral issue. Well, they did wrong and will pay for it, but the Fed. gov't needs to show some justice, to abide by their "Plea Bargaining" situations. They seem to decide that one is guilty even before the trial. Then that so-called "Plea Bargain' doesn't mean a thing! Pete, a retired man who has put in 30 years of extremely hard labor, lived frugally and saved money, owns his own home, contributes taxes to the community, contributes to goodwill non-profit organizations, and has never broken any other laws in his entire life (not even speeding) deserves to be given a second chance! He has never touched anyone nor would he ever harm anyone. He just used the internet in the privacy of his own home ... not realizing its impact on the rest of his life!

Posted by: Carol Hartman | Jul 27, 2008 6:11:21 AM

I'M THE WIFE OF A NON-VIOLENT OFFENDER IN THE FEDERAL SYSTEM ,AND I AGREE WITH WESLYN ALVAREZ ..THEY GAVE MY HUSBAND A PLEA FOR 10 YRS. THAT HE SIGN , AND THE JUDGE GAVE HIM 12 YRS. THEY DON'T CARE WHY THESE PEOPLE DO WHAT THEY DO ,JUST THAT THEY DID IT .IT'S ALL ABOUT THEY CAN'T CONTROL NON TAXED MONEY SO IF YOU CAN'T GET TAXED FOR IT THEY WILL PUNISH YOU FOR MAKING IT....

Posted by: ONEHUNNIT | Sep 15, 2008 7:28:00 PM

I am a 47 year old mother with 2 grandchildren. My only received a 14 year sentence for conspiracy drug charges and is currently serving time in a federal facility. My son is a non-violent offender. I didn't have money and borrowed against credit cards to get a lawyer -- but it did little to help. Are there plans to reduce federal drug sentences. Which Representatives and Senators could I write for help.

Posted by: Michelle Davis | Jan 13, 2009 6:25:30 PM

I am a 49 year old woman awaiting sentencing for a drug conspiracy charge. My husband,53, is also waiting for his sentencing. The court allowed me bond, but denied bond for my husband. I am a first time offender and I am looking at least five years in prison. My husband, on the other hand, is given a plea agreement of ten years to LIFE. He is a nonviolent offender with one previous charge of which he served six months for his crime. At our age, I feel like our life is over. How can people who commit violent crimes, murder, rape, child molestation and the like be given less time for their crimes? PLEASE, HEAR ME...WE NEED HELP NOW.

Posted by: Debbie Majure | Mar 14, 2009 4:51:03 PM

My name is Kristi Williams. I am a registered nurse in Hazlehurst Ga. My father was sheriff here for 16 yrs, never comitted a crime before is now in a federal prison in WV, he was convicted of bank fraud. He is 55 yrs old and we would like to get him home on home confinement. The system is so unfair. Where do you turn for help?

Posted by: Kristi Williams | Jul 6, 2009 12:18:43 PM

my husband its waiting for sentencing for a non violant case there offering him 15 years ,we been together for 16 years ,and have 6 kids together ,hes a great dad and husband and i cant believed that they will destroy our lifes like this, my husband accepts responsability for the crime commited but he dosnt deserve 15 years in prison .... my oldest child is 17 and my joungest is 5 ,what can i do to help my husband in sentencing ?

Posted by: silviaroman | Oct 25, 2009 12:17:35 AM

Hi I am 21 yrs old and my fiance of 28 has been sentenced to 10 yrs for conspiracy in human trafficking, he has been transferred to a federal prison in missouri and he,from what I know, he didnt have to do with anything, he has no record and no evidence found against him..i really would appreciate if I had some help or information in what we could do..we have a 2 yr old boy which he barely knows and I dont want for our family to be destroyed just like that..

Posted by: Laurannys Guerra | Oct 24, 2011 12:16:49 PM

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