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March 4, 2009

Did anyone (or any media) attend the "crime summit" on the Hill?

As previewed in this post, yesterday afternoon there was a "crime summit" organized by Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA), Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee, which was to explore "smart on crime" proposals (as this formal announcement explains).  I was hoping that this event might get lots of media attention, especially in the wake of the Pew Center's big report on the scope and costs of criminal justice control in the United States.  But, as of this writing, I cannot find on single traditional (or non-tradtional) media report on the event.

In addition to hoping any "crime summit" attendees will send me a report on the event, perhaps others can opine on whether I ought to be impressed with the ability of this event to be so stealthy.  (Perhaps controversial politicians hoping to avoid continued media scrutiny ought to just start planning crime summits and other criminal justice reform events.)

March 4, 2009 at 09:46 AM | Permalink


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I was there as a representative of a non-profit think tank to listen in. It didn't seem stealthy--the room was packed for the duration and I'd estimate there were at least 150 attendees, though it could have been more.

Nothing particularly controversial was said, and the first portion was substantially dedicated to reauthorizing upcoming legislation and properly implementing the Second Chance Act. There was a push to repeal Mandatory Minimums and move toward evidence based data collection and base future policies on that data.

Posted by: JPB | Mar 4, 2009 11:05:49 AM

There are so many criminal justice issues that need Congressional involvement, especially for sentencing policy, that it will take a long time and lots of different kinds of efforts. Either there will be a groundswell of support for major sentencing reforms in the next 4 years, or there will be incremental changes (like the crack cocaine Guideline amendment, and hopefully some changes to the "Ashcroft Memorandum") that will build on prior changes as time passes. The recent Pew Report is an excellent example of assistance to the effort. Either way this sort of summit is a step in the right direction and I'm glad so many were there, even if it didn't get much traction in the press (yet).

Thanks, Professor Berman, for highlighting even "stealthy" efforts at change.

Posted by: Penn Hackney, AFPD | Mar 4, 2009 12:52:40 PM

The very well-attended House "Smart on Crime" Summit was full of panelists decrying the "tough on crime" polices of recent years and advocating more progressive approaches to crime prevention, at-risk children, prisoner re-entry and re-integration. One of the three panels, moderated by Marc Mauer and including Jim Felman, Judge Nancy Gertner, and ex-prisoner Kemba Wood, was devoted exclusively to federal sentencing policies.

The biggest news was Rep. Bobby Scott's list of legislation he expects to be introduced and acted upon in this Congress. This legislaton would:

-Add a new provision--essenially a super-safety valve--that would allow courts to sentence below ANY applicable mandatory minimum sentence if required, in the judge's discretion, to satisfy requirements of 3553(a).

-Reintroduce the crack/powder equalization bill, with crack treated as powder under the guidelines

-ELIMINATE the mandatory minimums for trafficking both crack and powder and for possession of crack

- Reserve 924(c ) mandatory consecutive punishments of 25 yrs for truly repeat offenders by requiring an intervening conviction between predicate offenses

- Add an ex officio defense attorney to the USSC

- Correct BOP calculation of good time to earn full 15% intended by Congress, and provide for extra “good time credit”, possibly an additional 60 days/yr, for completion of certain education and possibly other programs

- Expand BOP treatment, and expand UNICOR

Highlights from the panel on federal sentencing included:

Judge Gertner, who argued that things were better after Booker, but still not good enough. The crack amendment was just a "minor adjustment" that did not affect the mandatory minimums. The Supreme Court has already had to tell the lower courts FIVE times that the guidelines are really advisory, but compliance with the guidelines' recommendations persists. A rate of 60% within range is "not a good thing." Advocates need to present judges with evidence of what alternative sentences would be effective for a particular offender.

Jim Felman stated there was consensus to 1) fix the crack penalties, 2) repeal mandatory minimums, and 3) expand alternatives to incarceration. He recommended expanding the zones on the sentencing table. He argued that the Commisison should release more data so that researchers could study which offenders could be safely given alternatives. Felman also criticizd the DOJ's "most serious readily provable" standard for charging and plea bargainging and the fact that DOJ was on orders to always argue or a sentence within the range or higher--- "a rule, that if adopted by judges, would be unlawful."

Other highlights, from a federal perspective, were:

Steve Sady, Chief Deputy Federal Public Defender, who explained in great detail how simple changes to BOP policies, even without any new legislation, could save millions in prison beds and increase compassion in sentencing. The changes he proposed were:

-ensure that prisoners receive the full 15% good time intended by Conress rather than the current 12.5%

-fully implement residential drug treatment and give the full one-year sentence reduction rather than the current average half year or less.

- reinstate Boot Camps

- Give full effect to Second Chance Act

- Expand "Second Look" compassionate release

Doug Burris, Chief Fed. Probation Officer for E. Dist Ill. described his department's programs to find employment for ex-offenders, and stated that employment was the most important factor in successful reintegration

Posted by: pjhofer | Mar 4, 2009 3:48:22 PM

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