Report: Federal Crack Sentences Getting Shorter

The Sentencing Project has completed a (pdf) new report on post-Booker federal crack sentences:

The report coincides with the one-year anniversary of the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Booker, in which the Court struck down the mandatory application of the federal sentencing guidelines as unconstitutional, but kept the guidelines intact by requiring that they be consulted in an advisory capacity. Examining published court decisions, the new report assesses how judges have utilized their expanded range of discretion in one of the most contentious areas of federal sentencing, crack cocaine offenses.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, crack cocaine is punished at the rate of 100:1 compared to powder cocaine sentences. Here are the report's key findings:

• Continuing Harsh Sentences -- Federal judges continue to impose stiff prison sentences in crack cocaine cases despite deviations from the federal guidelines. Of the published decisions analyzed, defendants in crack cocaine cases were sentenced to an average prison term of 11 years.

• Judges Using Discretion in Individual Cases -- Judges are employing their discretion to assess individual case characteristics and in selected cases, to impose sentences that better meet the goals of sentencing. These factors include defendant circumstances, goals of sentencing, and policy recommendations of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

The report makes these recommendations:

1) There is no need for a Booker “fix” since judges appear to be imposing harsh penalties in serious cases, but distinguishing these from those cases in which the defendant is less culpable; and, 2) Congress should reconsider the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity in order to expand the range of cases in which judges can consider individual case characteristics.

A second report by the Sentencing Project on Incarceration and Crime(pdf) debunks the hype by law-enforcement and prosecutors that the reason for the recent drop in crime is harsh sentences,

A new report by The Sentencing Project challenges the widely held misperception that the decline in crime rates since the 1990s resulted from an increasing reliance upon incarceration. Incarceration and Crime: A Complex Relationship provides a comprehensive analysis of research conducted on the relationship between incarceration and crime, and concludes that assertions of prison’s impact on criminal offending have been overstated. As policymakers continue to struggle with the legacy of a prison population that has been growing steadily for more than three decades, this report suggests an urgent need for the reconsideration of the punitive sentencing and parole policies that currently dominate the criminal justice landscape.

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