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September 6, 2008

Report that USSC is working on incarceration alternatives

Naas236_senten_ns_20080902190014 In the Wall Street Journal, Gary Fields has this effective piece discussing what the US Sentencing Commission might have in the works.  Here are lengthy excerpts:

The panel that sets sentencing guidelines for federal courts plans to focus on developing alternatives to incarceration, setting up a possible clash with the Justice Department.

Exactly what the U.S. Sentencing Commission might recommend isn't clear.  Possible models include bodies such as drug courts, which place offenders in treatment instead of prison.  The panel's intention, which it mentioned in a filing in the Federal Register, could provide an impetus for cash-strapped states to follow suit.  Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said the department is hopeful about the use of monitoring technologies and other strategies, but "we do not believe the use of alternatives should be expanded without further rigorous research showing their effectiveness in promoting public safety."...

This summer, the commission hosted a two-day symposium on alternatives to prison. "We're going to be looking at what might fit at the starting point, before somebody is sent to prison," said District Court Judge Ricardo Hinojosa, who is chairman of the commission. Mr. Hinojosa said the commission will likely proceed cautiously, with considerations of public safety being paramount. Advocates for the idea say the panel's planned consideration is a significant step....

Popular options discussed at the commission's symposium included drug courts now found in every state, which are used to divert drug offenders into treatment programs, community service and restitution centers. These centers allow low-risk offenders to live in residential settings while working to pay their fines and restitution, plus their room and board.

Nationally, the political climate may be receptive to such a change. There has been little discussion of crime on the campaign trail, a place where candidates once vied to appear tougher than their opponents.  Recent congressional hearings have focused on the economic and social costs of the nation's drug policies and juvenile-detention system.  That's a far cry from just three years ago, when at least one bill was introduced that would have beefed up mandatory minimum penalties for drug crimes.

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September 6, 2008 at 10:14 AM | Permalink


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As most practitioners know, the reality is that most courts already bend over backwards to give a first (or second and sometimes third) offender an opportunity at drug treatment before imposing incarceration. Again, as most practitioners know, offenders squander opportunity after opportunity until the court has no option but to incarcerate.

Posted by: MJS | Sep 6, 2008 12:03:12 PM


You are correct but it depends on where you live. A nonresident is more likely to be incarcerated and a resident in a community with good treatment options is less likely to be incarcerated. I live in a judicial district with better than average treatment resources and there is a large urban/rural disparity because it costs more to provide the services in the rural counties. We have talked about creating a mobile treatment facility that moves by bus or van from town to town in the rural counties.

It also depends on family circumstances because providing drug treatment to single mothers with minor children is much more complicated than providing the same service to a male or a female with no children.

Posted by: John Neff | Sep 6, 2008 4:49:35 PM

Really interesting to read

Posted by: Aron Tothy | Oct 18, 2008 3:04:50 AM

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