Tag: Criminal justice reform

Trump Considers Tying Criminal Justice Reforms to Border Wall Funding

The FIRST STEP Act might get shoved into an end-of-year spending bill.

There appears to be enough bipartisan backing to pass some modest reforms to federal prison conditions and mandatory minimums. Even the Fox Broadcasting Company has put out a statement of support for the FIRST STEP Act. Yet the bill is still stuck in the Senate, and the future of federal criminal justice reform legislation remains unsettlingly cloudy.

President Donald Trump formally announced his support for the law in November, and it has already passed the House. But Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) says it might not get a floor vote until January. McConnell is being pressured by fellow conservatives who back the bill and say they know they have the votes to pass it, but a group of Republicans is apparently trying to remove some “safety valve” provisions that permit judges to deviate from mandatory minimum sentence guidelines in some cases. That safety valve has the potential to reduce the sentences of more than 2,000 defendants a year.

Trump reportedly has a plan to get the law passed. According to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.), the president wants to shove the FIRST STEP Act into a year-end must-pass spending bill. Lawmakers just passed a stop-gap bill to continue funding the federal government for a couple more weeks. But that runs out right before Christmas.

Senator Graham tweets:

In other words, Trump is trying to tie the FIRST STEP Act to funding for his border wall. He wants $5 billion to start the wall. Senate Democrats have said that they’re willing to fund $1.6 billion for more border security but that they’re not going to give Trump all the money he wants. And obviously, once the Democrats take over the House they’re not going to give him the funds.

Republican Senators have introduced legislation to give Trump $25 billion for the wall, but that bill has no chance of going anywhere at all.

Trump’s tactic here is not terribly unusual. Year-end “must pass” omnibus spending bills have become a depository for unrelated legislation when congressional leaders are struggling to pull together votes. Some of these bills wouldn’t survive public scrutiny. Back in 2016, Reason.com explored several of the unrelated pieces of legislation that got dropped into a $1.1 trillion spending bill passed before the end of 2015.

So the big question here is whether the two demands can be separated. Could the FIRST STEP Act get tossed in the spending bill even if Democrats refuse any consideration of more border wall spending? And will Trump still support it in that case? If he’s stubborn, could that actually cause politically ambitious Democratic senators like Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to turn against the FIRST STEP Act so they can use it as a bludgeon against Trump?

UPDATE: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who had been opposing the FIRST STEP Act (after previously supporting it) says he’s back on board after an amendment was added to “exclude violent offenders from being released early.”

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New Report On Firearms Offense Sentences Released

The United States Sentencing Commission issued a report on March 15th titled Mandatory Minimum Penalties for Firearms Offenses in the Federal Criminal Justice System.  This is the third publication in the Commission’s series on mandatory minimum penalties, including the 2017 Mandatory Minimum Overview and the 2017 Drug Mandatory Minimum Report.

Yesterday’s Mandatory Minimum Firearms report uses fiscal year 2016 data and focuses on firearms offenses, the second most common federal offenses carrying mandatory minimums after drug offenses.  The report analyzes two statutes carrying minimum mandatory penalties: (1) 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (relating to using, carrying or possessing firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking or crime of violence); and (2) 18 U.S.C. 924(e), the Armed Career Criminal Act.  The publication also addresses the impact of these statutes on the Bureau of Prison’s prisoner population.

Here are some highlights from the 81-page report:

1. Firearms mandatory minimum penalties continue to result in long sentences although they have decreased since fiscal year 2010.

2. Offenders charged with and convicted of multiple counts under section 924(c)received exceptionally long sentences as a result of the statutory requirement that the sentence for each count be served consecutively.

3. In addition, other charging and plea decisions also play a significant role in theapplication and impact of firearms mandatory minimum penalties.

4. Statutory relief under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e) for providing substantial assistance to the government plays a significant role in the application and impact of firearms mandatory minimum penalties.

5. While the rate at which firearms offenders were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum has been stable, the number of offenders convicted of offenses carrying such penalties has decreased significantly since fiscal year 2010.

6. Firearms mandatory minimum penalties continue to impact Black offenders more than any other racial group.

 

 

Sentencing Commission Releases 2017 Federal Crime Statistics

Last week the United States Sentencing Commission released its 2017 Annual Report and 2017 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing. FY2017 encompasses the federal government’s fiscal year October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017 and includes data on sentencings occurring during this period and reported to the Commission before February 14, 2018.  Together the Report and Sourcebook represent the annual report required by 28 U.S.C. § 997, as well as analysis, recommendations, and accounting referenced in 28 U.S.C. § 994(w)(3).

The 2017 Annual Report provides information on the Commission’s activities, such as conducting research, collecting and reporting sentencing data, sentencing policy development (i.e., guideline amendments), and training and outreach.

The 273-page 2017 Sourcebook contains sentencing statistics on a wide range of variables—such as length of sentences and adjustments for various primary offenses—in each federal judicial circuit and district, reflected in tables, figures, and pie charts.  The information in the Sourcebook is also available in the Commission’s online resource Interactive Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics. The data in the interactive sourcebook can be tailored to any district or group of districts.  Here are some highlights from the Sourcebook data:

  • In FY 2017, the courts reported 66,873 felony and Class A misdemeanor cases to the Commission. This represents a decrease of 869 cases from the prior fiscal year.
  • The race of federal offenders remained largely unchanged from prior years. In FY 2017, 53.2 percent of all offenders were Hispanic, 21.5 percent were White, 21.1 percent were Black, and 4.2 percent were of another race. Non-U.S. citizens accounted for 40.7 percent of all offenders.
  • Drug cases accounted for the largest single group of offenses in FY 2017, comprising 30.8 percent of all reported cases. Cases involving immigration, firearms, and fraud were the next most common types of offenses after drug cases. Together these four types of offenses accounted for 82.4 percent of all cases reported to the Commission in FY 2017.
  • Among drug cases, offenses involving methamphetamine were most common, accounting for 34.6 percent of all drug cases.
  • Drug sentences remained relatively stable across all drug types in fiscal year 2017. The average length of imprisonment increased slightly from FY 2016 in cases involving methamphetamines, from 90 months to 91 months, and also in marijuana cases, from 28 months to 29 months. In fiscal year 2017, 44.2 percent of drug offenders were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty.

 

Study Reveals No Relationship Between Prison Terms For Drug Offenses And Rates Of Drug Use, Arrests, Or Overdose Deaths

The PEW Charitable Trusts issued a brief, earlier this month,  reporting on the relationship between prison terms and the reduction in rates of drug use, arrests, and overdose deaths.

The analysis found no statistically significant relationship between drug imprisonment rates and three indicators of state drug problems: drug use, drug overdose deaths, and drug arrests. “In other words, higher rates of drug imprisonment did not translate into lower rates of drug use, arrests, or overdose deaths.” The PEW study also revealed that in states that had revised their drug penalties, prison populations had been reduced without an increase in crime rates.

Additionally, in South Carolina, after the state expanded probation and parole opportunities for people convicted of drug offenses, the prison population decreased by 14 percent, a larger proportion of the state’s inmates were convicted of violent offenses, and the violent crime rate dropped by 16 percent between 2010 and 2015.

The brief concluded that research revealed that “some strategies for reducing drug use and crime are more effective than others and that imprisonment ranks near the bottom of the list.”

Crime Rate Falls In 2017

A year-end analysis of by the Brennan Center for Justice, titled Crime in 2017: Updated Analysis, directly undercuts any claims that there is a nationwide crime wave.  According to the report, “[a]ll measures of crime in the 30 largest American cities—the overall crime rate, violent crime rate, and murder rate—are estimated to decline in 2017,” although there are some cities where violence has increased, like Chicago and Charlotte.   Here are some key findings of the Brennan Center’s analysis:

  • The overall crime rate in the 30 largest cities in 2017 is estimated to decline slightly from 2016, falling by 2.7 percent.
  • The violent crime rate will also decrease slightly, by 1.1 percent, essentially remaining stable.
  • The 2017 murder rate in the 30 largest cities is estimated to decline by 5.6 percent. Large decreases this year in Chicago (down 11.9 percent) and Detroit (down 9.8 percent), as well as small decreases in other cities, contributed to this decline. New York City’s murder rate will also decline again, to 3.3 killings per 100,000 people.
  • Some cities are projected to see their murder rates rise, including Charlotte (54.6 percent) and Baltimore (11.3 percent).