The U.S. Sentencing Commission yesterday proposed amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines that include an across-the-board reduction in the sentences recommended for all drug offenses, says Ohio State University law Prof. Douglas Berman of the Sentencing Law and Policy blog. “The Commission's proposal reflects its priority of reducing costs of incarceration and overcapacity of prisons, without endangering public safety,” said its chair, Judge Patti Saris. A commission study of offenders who got a reduced sentence under a similar two-level decrease in guideline levels for crack cocaine offenders in 2007 found no difference in recidivism rates for those offenders released early compared to those who served their full sentence.
Berman says the panel’s action, although now only a proposal for comment, “strikes me as the most important tangible federal sentencing development since [last year’s] passage of the Fair Sentencing Act.” He says the proposal “is essentially a statement by the [commission] that it believes, in its expert opinion, the current guideline sentences for ALL drug offenses are ALL too harsh.” In the past, the Justice Department opposed many proposed pro-defendant guideline amendments, but Berman suspects that with Attorney General Holder talking more about sentencing reform, “DOJ will not actively oppose the amendment (and may even support it).” Berman concludes, “not only could this amendment start lowering many federal drug sentences now and going foward, there is a chance it could end up lowering many long federal drug sentences already being served.”