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April 22, 2009

Notable and encouraging comments from new USSC chair-nominee

This morning's Rutland Herald has this new piece, headlined "Sessions tapped for federal position," that with lots of intriguing comments from the new nominee for the head of the US Sentencing Commission. Here are some highlights:

Judge William Sessions, who was nominated Monday to be chairman of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, hopes to continue reforming federal sentencing guidelines to address prison overcrowding. "We're at a particular point in history where prisons are incredibly overcrowded," Sessions said. "We're also at a particular point in time in which there's a potential for real change."...

Options other than standard incarceration should be used more to address prison overcrowding, Sessions said. That includes drug treatment courts, placement in home confinement or community confinement, and split sentences in which part of a sentence is served in prison and part is served in the community.

Sessions also hopes to make rehabilitation a higher priority in federal sentences. "For the last 15 years there's been little interest in rehabilitation," Sessions said. Instead, punishment has been the priority. "A person commits a crime, and they get X," he said. "We're going back to, 'How do we get these people rehabilitated so when they get out of prison, they're not a danger?'"

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. said he hopes Sessions wins unanimous confirmation in the Senate, and the Vermont senator's position as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee could help Sessions' confirmation....

[Recently], the sentencing commission was successful in reforming the crack sentencing guidelines by taking a more incremental approach, Sessions said.  The crack cocaine reforms were retroactive, so the sentences were changed for roughly 20,000 federal prisoners who were already incarcerated.

"To order the federal court system to re-sentence 20,000 people and reduce their sentences by two to three years was a major deal," Sessions said.  The effort also showed Sessions that an incremental approach — along with consensus-building prior to formally proposing sentencing changes — is the key to getting acceptance from Congress....

As the chairman, Sessions said he would have more control over the direction the commission takes.  The chairman sets the agenda and the policy, and speaks before Congress, Sessions said. "You're the face of the commission," he said.  "If you have a real conservative chair, sometimes the perception is that the sentencing commission is real conservative, and vice versa."

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April 22, 2009 at 09:53 AM | Permalink


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Tracked on Apr 22, 2009 5:31:21 PM


It took me a full 24 hours to figure out who you were talking about! At first I thought the reference was to Texan William Sessions, the former FBI director, and couldn't figure out why Patrick Leahy would be his champion. Now I see that a Vermont district judge has a similar name.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Apr 22, 2009 10:36:21 AM

interesting comments from Sessions in the newspaper article, considering that he is widely known as a "guidelines" judge who offers very little in the way of alternative sentences such as home confinement. Although the USSC does not prepare (or release) sentencing data by judge, Vermont has 2 main sentencing judges, with Sessions handling about 70% of the cases.

However, I am hopeful that he is true to his word about wanting change.

Posted by: anonymous | Apr 22, 2009 2:47:48 PM

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