Advocates for added flexibility in criminal sentencing took their appeal to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which heard testimony in Chicago this week as part of the agency’s first nationwide series of public hearings since federal sentencing guidelines took effect 22 years ago, reports the Washington Post. Criminal justice reform proponents have long pushed the federal government to back alternatives to incarceration and more flexible sentencing for drug, child pornography and other convictions.
While past critics of federal guidelines criticized them for removing judges’ discretion, others in law enforcement and advocacy want to use the guidelines to promote alternative sentencing. They said they think the commission is increasingly receptive to that idea. Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary J. Michael Brown, who called the commission “the NASA of sentencing stuff,” lamented states passing strict laws targeting “the drug du jour” only to end up “with prison systems bursting at the seams with people who aren’t the most dangerous to society.” David Kennedy of John Jay College of Criminal Justice urged the commission to promote new strategies for dealing with gangs, including an approach wherein judges and prosecutors are more lenient if gangs cease their activities.