November 14, 2007

Criminal justice news out of Washington

Prisoner reentry

The U.S. House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill to provide help to people leaving prison. The Second Chance Act of 2007 would ease the re-entry process by providing increased funding for mentoring programs, substance abuse treatment and job training.

Federal sentencing equity

Earlier this month, the U.S. Sentencing Commission lowered the federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine offenses due to widespread concern over racial inequities. That change will likely impact about 3,500 prisoners per year, reducing the average sentence by 15 months.

Yesterday, the commission held a hearing into whether the change should be made retroactive. That would make about 19,500 crack cocaine offenders now in prison eligible for shorter sentences. The U.S. Justice Department strongly opposes retroactivity.

Paul G. Cassell, a law professor at the University of Utah, has an excellent op-ed in today’s Washington Post that provides a lot of background on this issue, along with links to further references.

More information on these and related issues is at The Sentencing Project.