The Sentencing Project
New Sentencing Guidelines—A Breakthrough for U.S. Prison and Sentencing Reform
New sentencing guidelines for federal courts go into effect November 1st, signaling a long-awaited breakthrough for U.S. prison and sentencing reform.
The result of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010*, the guidelines curb excessive terms for low-level crack cocaine offenses and retroactively permit thousands sentenced under old statutes to apply for sentence reduction.
“The changes taking place are historic,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project. “Hopefully, this will lead to a more sensible and cost-effective sentencing climate in the federal justice system.”
The guidelines address a 25-year sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine that contributed to the imprisonment of African Americans at six times the rate of whites and to the United States becoming the world's leader in incarceration.
The new guidelines will follow a procedure similar to that used after the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which sets sentencing guidelines for federal judges, eased crack cocaine sentencing in 2007. The result: More than 20,000 cases were heard that resulted in 16,000 sentencing
A commission analysis estimated that changing the crack guidelines would, in 15 years, lower the size of the federal prison population by 3,800. Such a reduction would result in savings of more than $87 million.
Momentum for prison and sentencing reform, often fueled by budgetary constraints, is growing, evident in recent prison closings and state sentencing reforms.
The Sentencing Project, in coalition with 80 national and regional organizations, is working to advance broader sentencing reforms to curb federal prison spending, overcrowding and to ensure a more just system. These include:
• Eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses
• Enhancing elderly prisoner release programs
• Expanding time credits for good behavior*Prior to the bipartisan passage of the Fair Sentencing Act, a first time drug offender caught with five grams of crack cocaine received a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison. Ten years for 50 grams. To receive equivalent sentences, a first time offender in possession of powder cocaine would have to have 500 grams—about a pound—and 5,000 grams, respectively. The Fair Sentencing Act reduced the quantity disparity from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1.