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October 1, 2015

Can and should the US Sentencing Commission try quickly to help everyone take stock of the SCRA 2015?

I am about to go off-line for the afternoon in order to (try to) read closely the full text of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (SRCA 2015) which was introduced today by US Senate leadership.   The full bill, which runs 141 pages and is available at this link, has so many notable parts;  I am already struggling to figure out what is what and to assess the good, the bad and the ugly of what can be found in this massive legislative proposal.  Moreover, without some basic (and not-so-basic) data about how many past, present and future federal cases could be readily impacted by various provisions, it is hard to know which are the most consequential elements of the bill from just a basic reading to the SRCA text .

Ergo, the question in the title of this post, which jumped into my head as I started to think about what to think about SRCA 2015.  I am sure it would take a very long time for the US Sentencing Commission to do a comprehensive analysis of all that appears in the SRCA 2015.  But I suspect the USSC and its terrific research staff might be able to compose quickly one of its terrific "Quick Facts" publications to aid those of us trying to better figure out what needs still be to figured out about this massive bill.

Notably and fittingly, in the press event announcing the SRCA 2015, Senator Chuck Schumer astutely described the sentencing and prison reform problem as a kind of Rubik's Cube with lots of interlocking and moving parts.  I am sincerely hopeful the US Sentencing Commission will commit itself in the days ahead to helping all of us fans of federal sentencing reform better figure out whether and how the different-colored pieces of the proposed SRCA 2015 match up.

Today's prior related posts:

October 1, 2015 at 04:02 PM | Permalink


"massive" "so many notable parts" "Struggling" "hard to know" "Rubik's Cube"

These mean one will need a lawyer to translate and to explain. And that appears to be its main purpose, not tax savings, not public safety.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 1, 2015 5:45:22 PM

Oh yes, we need MORE complications in the sentencing process. And what a great idea to have to deal with potentially thousands of resentencings as well.
Congress and the Commission should be put on a strict moratorium forbidding any changes to federal sentencing until the Circuit and Supreme Courts finish figuring out to apply all the convoluted bullshit they have already implemented.

Posted by: USPO | Oct 2, 2015 12:26:07 AM

Forget rent seeking, and the comment of USPO is much appreciated. I assume, USPO is not a lawyer.

If a Harvard Law educated, endowed chair sitting expert in sentencing calls a law a Rubik's Cube, it is unconstitutional. It violates the notice requirement of the Fifth Amendment Due Process rights clause. The average IQ in prison is 85. Most can are barely literate. They are still owed proper notice. I know that Congress and the Supreme Court have exempted themselves from these constitutional requirements. Nevertheless, the law is lawless by its complexity.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 2, 2015 8:44:46 AM

Congress should ask the USSC for sentence and prison impact assessments of all proposed sentencing legislation, and these should be made public. If the negotiators of this complex compromise didn't receive such analyses, they couldn't have known what they were doing. They should also have requested racial impact analyses.

At first glance, it is very difficult to know by how much the good in this legislation outweighs the bad. This is a FAR weaker reform than the Smarter Sentencing Act or the Justice Safety Act, and it regresses in several areas while progressing in others. Several of the provisions will clearly create new adverse impacts on black defendants.

Taxpayers have invested a great deal in the research function of the USSC. Only they have the data---such as on the nature of prior convictions and sentences---that could be used to model the impact of this bill. The USSC has been asked repeatedly, and has promised, to release more of its datasets. But these have not been forthcoming. Without a change of policy regarding release of data, informed public debate over this legislation will be impossible.

Posted by: Empiricist | Oct 2, 2015 4:58:36 PM

You're right Empiricist. It is difficult to know till the sausage is made, and probably some time after that.

Posted by: beth | Oct 4, 2015 11:32:44 AM

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