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February 7, 2013

Sixth Circuit panel adds flavor to application of Tapia to supervised release

The Sixth Circuit addresses an issue about the application of the Supreme Court's recent Tapia ruling with a panel opinion in US v. Deen, No. 11-2271 (6th Cir. Feb. 7, 2013) (available here), which struck me as blogworthy for reasons beyond the legal issues being resolved.  The first and last paragraphs of this Deen opinion highlight not only the holding, but also why the entire opinion is worth a read in full:

In the mid-1880s, Victor Hugo is said to have written, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”  Our national debate about the relationship between education and crime, both in regard to prevention and rehabilitation, has long raged.  A part of it — the part that asks whether rehabilitation is a viable penological goal — has been at the heart of Congress’s shaping of the American prison system.  A unanimous Supreme Court recently held that the Sentencing Reform Act does not permit a court to “impose or lengthen a prison sentence to enable an offender to complete a treatment program or otherwise to promote rehabilitation.” Tapiav. United States, 131 S. Ct. 2382, 2393 (2011).  Tapia involved a defendant’s initial sentencing.  This appeal gives us occasion to consider whether that prohibition applies when a court imposes or lengthens a prison term that follows the revocation of supervised release.  We conclude that it does.  As a result, we VACATE Defendant Michael Deen’s sentence and REMAND for resentencing....

The issue in this case is whether it is proper for a court to use rehabilitative goals as the basis of its decision to impose or lengthen a defendant’s prison sentence following the revocation of his supervised release.  We recognize that a long public debate on the role of rehabilitation in the American prison system lies beneath this issue.  As that debate has expanded to incorporate more empirical study of the viability of rehabilitation, recent developments — including the proliferation of judge-involved supervision programs in the federal courts, as well as the growth of scholarship demonstrating that rehabilitative programs cut recidivism rates — suggest that the “nothing works” consensus reached in the 1970s and 1980s may be in need of reexamination.  That full panoply of issues remains for another day.  Today, we resolve the propriety of Michael Deen’s sentence. The record in this case permits no conclusion but that the length of his prison sentence was fixed to promote his rehabilitation.  This is inappropriate in light of the Sentencing Reform Act and governing Supreme Court authority.  As a result, we VACATE Deen’s sentence and REMAND to the district court for resentencing.

For space reasons, I have omitted a bunch of footnotes from the final paragraph that include lots of notable social science literature concerning what correctional programs have showed success in reducing recidivism rates.

February 7, 2013 at 05:58 PM | Permalink

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