Some senators are insisting on adding sentencing provisions. to the federal prison reform bill passed by the House last week, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tells senators “if you all can get your act together and come up with something that you’re comfortable with, that the president will sign, I’d be willing to take a look at it.”
Bill Otis, “the arch-nemesis of criminal justice reform,” is one of four people nominated by the Trump administration for vacancies on the nonpartisan U.S. Sentencing Commission. The New Republic says Otis’ nomination could upset the balance of a body tasked with using data, not politics, to set sentencing policies.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission issued proposed guidelines for federal judges for sentencing in cases involving synthetic drugs and fentanyl. The panel said the fentanyl proposal amounts to a 50 percent increase in recommended sentences.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission held its first hearing Wednesday on a proposal that recommends that first-time offenders who sell a half-ounce of fentanyl be sentenced to up to five years in prison, more than double the current top. The synthetic opioid was responsible for 20,000 overdose deaths in 2016. Critics say the plan to raise sentences based on the drug’s weight will incentivize selling it in its most dangerous forms.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission says that mandatory minimum terms in gun cases have dropped in the last six years, but firearms offenders are still a large part of the federal prison population, nearly 15 percent as of 2016.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission says in its annual report that more than 44 percent of drug offenders were convicted of crimes carrying a mandatory minimum sentence. Drug cases are the largest single category of federal crimes.
The president has nominated four people to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, including three well-known conservatives. Families Against Mandatory Minimums opposed one of the nominees–Georgetown law Prof. William Otis, a former prosecutor—for his “outdated views.”
Siding with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the White House signals that it does not favor a Senate bill that would reduce mandatory prison terms, but it does back legislation that would improve the inmate reentry system.