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November 19, 2017

"How Congress, the U.S. Sentencing Commission and Federal Judges Contribute to Mass Incarceration"

The title of this post is the title of this recently posted short article by US District Judge Lynn Adelman.  Here is its abstract:

This article argues that each of the major decision-makers in the federal sentencing process, Congress, the United States Sentencing Commission and the federal judiciary contribute substantially to mass incarceration.  The article first discusses how, beginning in the 1960s and continuing for the next three decades, Congress enacted a series of increasingly punitive anti-crime laws. Congress’s focus on crime was inextricably connected to the urban rebellion of the 1960s, and members of both political parties played important roles in passing the harsh legislation. 

Probably the worst of the laws that Congress enacted, and the one that contributed most to mass incarceration, was the mis-named Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 which abolished federal parole and established a commission to promulgate mandatory sentencing guidelines.  The commission proceeded to enact extremely harsh guidelines and virtually preclude sentences of probation.  The article laments how, even after the Supreme Court struck down the mandatory feature of the guidelines, federal judges continue to adhere closely to the guidelines when sentencing defendants.

Finally, the article argues that one of the fundamental problems plaguing federal sentencing is the widespread misconception that the most important indicator of an effective and credible sentencing system is the absence of inter-judge disparity rather than the exercise of informed discretion.

November 19, 2017 at 02:52 PM | Permalink


There are 30 million crimes (15 common law/FBI index, and 15 internet). There are 2 million prosecutions. There is not enough punishment. That is why crime is rampant in reality.

Mandatory sentencing was the greatest achievement of the lawyer profession of the 20th Century. The profession actually was smart, effective, and helped this country. These dropped crime rates by 40% across the board. The Guidelines, and their state equivalents, saved one hundred thousand Black lives, over the past quarter century.

I cannot believe this achievement is now being derided ("Probably the worst of the laws that Congress enacted, and the one that contributed most to mass incarceration, was the mis-named Sentencing Reform Act of 1984..."). Best explanation? Guidelines also dropped lawyer and government worker employment.

Posted by: David Behar | Nov 20, 2017 8:48:42 AM

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