At its January 12 public meeting, the United States Sentencing Commission voted to publish for public comment proposed guideline amendments and issues for comment on a wide range of topics that include alternatives to incarceration, the relevance of specific offender characteristics to sentencing, and penalties for hate crimes. The 60-day public comment period runs through mid-March 2010, and a public hearing on the proposed amendments is scheduled in Washington, D.C., for March 18, 2010.The Commission voted to issue for comment a proposed amendment expanding the court’s authority to impose an alternative to incarceration for drug offenders who need treatment for drug addiction and who meet certain criteria. The proposed amendment creates a new guideline that gives the court the authority to impose a sentence of probation with a requirement that the offender participate in a substance abuse treatment program. The defendant receiving such a sentence must be a willing participant in the program and must have committed the offense while addicted to a controlled substance. In addition, the offender must have committed a lower-level offense, and the offender must meet the “safety valve” criteria as specified in the sentencing guidelines.The proposed amendment also would expand by one offense level Zones B and C in the guidelines’ sentencing table, making additional defendants eligible for the sentencing alternatives provided in the guidelines. Currently, the sentencing guidelines give the court the authority to sentence eligible defendants to community confinement, intermittent confinement, or home detention. The Commission also provided a number of issues for comment regarding alternative sentencing that includes a request for comment on defendants suffering from other conditions (e.g., mental conditions) and whether they, too, should be eligible for a treatment program as an alternative to incarceration.
The full text of the proposed amendments can be found here. It should come as no surprise that incarceration, particularly for non-violent offenders, is costly and doesn't provide the best solution for society or the offender.