Federal Sentencing Reform: One Step Forward, One Step Back

In Drug Crimes by RSF

On behalf of Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry posted in Drug Crimes on Wednesday, May 17, 2017.

How big and bloated is the prison system in the United States?

Short answer: Essentially, there is no other national counterpart anywhere in the world to compare with it.

In fact, myriad reports and studies routinely confirm that, in both per-capita and absolute terms, more individuals languish behind bars in American jails and prisons than in any other country on earth.

Oh, and then there’s this: Reportedly, American taxpayers spend approximately $87 billion annually on the criminal justice system.

There has been a staunch criminal sentencing reform movement underway for several years now, operating in large part as a growing — even seismic — response to what is largely perceived as mistakes made by criminal authorities carrying out policies pursuant to the so-called and long-tenured War on Drugs.

A key weapon employed in that battle has been the prosecutorial use of mandatory minimum sentencing rules that put offenders behind bars for a very long time.

A scathing criticism of that tool stresses its misapplication in far too many cases, most often outcomes for lower-level drug offenders, many of whom committed nonviolent offenses and lacked any prior involvement with the justice system.

A high-profile reform initiative under the Obama presidential administration — which was overtly welcomed in a broad-based and nonpartisan show of support — stressed far less recourse to mandatory minimum sentencing. The hope has been that focusing instead on prison alternatives for many offenders will dramatically lower systemic costs and reduce future crime.

For many, that hope is now dashed, in the wake of a memo issued by current U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions last week to federal prosecutors, telling them to aggressively follow a new policy against many offenders that once again promotes mandatory minimum outcomes.

As noted in a media report on the AG’s memo, its effects are likely to both bloat the federal prison population to ever-higher levels and bring about a dramatic spike in prison-related costs.