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February 6, 2009

"Alternative Sentencing in the Federal Criminal Justice System"

The title of this post is the title of this important new document now appearing on the US Sentencing Commission's website.  Here is how the USSC's describes its contents:

This publication provides an in-depth analysis of alternative sentences for federal offenders. It explains the types of alternative sentences available to sentencing courts under federal law, and the extent to which courts impose those sentences. The publication focuses on those offenders who are eligible for alternative sentences and the demographic and offense characteristics of the offenders who receive these sentences.

Though more descriptive than normative, this new USSC document concludes with this very valuable paragraph (that perhaps can and should be cut-and-pasted into many defense sentencing submissions):

Effective alternative sanctions are important options for federal, state, and local criminal justice systems. For the appropriate offenders, alternatives to incarceration can provide a substitute for costly incarceration. Ideally, alternatives also provide those offenders opportunities by diverting them from prison (or reducing time spent in prison) and into programs providing the life skills and treatment necessary to become law-abiding and productive members of society.

February 6, 2009 at 04:16 PM | Permalink


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The results of this study will startle some who have had no recent experience with federal sentencing. Of the 700,000 federal sentences imposed in the ten-year period between 1997 and 2007, 89.9% involved a prison term, while another 4% involved to a combination of probation and confinement, despite the availability of alternative nonincarcerative sanctions in almost 25% of the cases. Even the least serious offenses (Zone A) yield a prison sentence 25% of the time for citizens, and 87% of the time for non-citizens. People with little or no criminal record also go to prison most of the time: 73.7% of those in criminal history category I were sentenced to prison, while only 16% were sentenced to probation only (another 9.8% were sentenced to probation and confinement.

Anyone who believes in the idea of progress will be disappointed to learn that the predominance of prison-only sentences increased over the 10-year period, from 75.4% to 85.3%, while the percentage of probation-only sentences declined from 13.1% to 7.7%.

In context, the final paragraph of the report that Doug quotes seems pretty ironic.

Posted by: margy love | Feb 6, 2009 9:41:39 PM

I have first hand experenice at "That could never happen to me" I now know, the hard way, that if it can happen, it can happen to me, or you. I had a car air bag deploy as I sat at a red light one day. No reason, it just did. I had my boyfriend go to federal prison on a 27 year sentence, for something he had nothing to do with. But, he knew people that had gotten into trouble with the federal Gov. And for them to get a lesser sentence, they threw names like there were throwing balls at a game at he fair. These other people, were looking at life sentences. But instead, the purged themselfs in Federal court to save a little time on there part. My boyfriend, in his 55 years of living had never had any such charges as he is accused. These others had more then one of the same charges in the past. Now, because of Mandatory sentencing, 27 years for what?? Felons turning to Goverement witnessess. Felons should not be allowed, in my apinion, to be witnesses. There creditability is what, trustworthy!! But, who am I you ask? I'm nobody, and neither is my boyfriend. Thank you,JUST_US for all!!

Posted by: Melody | Feb 7, 2009 4:55:38 AM

I'm pessimistic about the prospects for alternative sentencing in the federal system.

Anything that breaks the chain of draconian prison sentences would take an unacceptable toll on the feds' coerced-confession (plea agreement) system. And none of our Chicken-Little lawmakers is capable of saying no to the Justice Department (sic).

Melody's problem is that there's still only thousands of similarly crushed, disillusioned Americans who know from personal experience that she's probably telling the truth.

Maybe someday after millions of citizens have been bulldozed into prison by hyper-ambitious, Giuliani-Spitzer-wannabe prosecutors people like her will get a sympathetic hearing...but probably not in any of our lifetimes.

Posted by: John K | Feb 8, 2009 11:02:15 AM

my Husband, (soon to be ex) was charged with four counts of Mail fraud. I found out that there is a plea agreement filed for him to plead to the four counts....there were really eight but prosecutor agreed to four highest charges. He was using his own parents and friends social security numbers to get credit cards by mail and charged up over $700,000 of debt. (there was over 1 million but agreement says $700,000. Max. sentence is 20 years but agreement says
guidelines recommend between 31 and 48 monthgs based on his score of 20? He has a very expensive attorney from West Palm Beach and is being tried in Indiana. I believe he is claiming he was an alcoholic but now is reformed and tries to say prison would be no good because he will not be able to support his family. He is a liar...and has not supported us in over a year. WIll the Federal Judge buy this bull....or not. Is he most likely going to prison or will his high profile attorney be able to buy his way out of prison? Can I send a letter to anyone stating how despicable he is. WHile he is waiting for plea and sentencing he was still stealing from me...!

Oh...he has a law degree and i do too.

Posted by: Karen | Feb 28, 2009 8:04:00 PM

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