ABA Endorses Sentencing and Correctional Systems Blueprint. (Judicial News)

Article excerpt

In August 2002, the American Bar Association's House of Delegates unanimously approved a resolution calling on federal, state, territorial and local governments to undertake a comprehensive review of their pretrial detention, sentencing and correctional systems, and to examine alternatives to incarceration before considering construction of new or expanded public or private prisons or jails. The catalyst for the enactment of this resolution was the economic downturn that is forcing governments nationwide to make difficult but necessary choices regarding budgetary priorities. The enormity and costliness of the task of protecting Americans from the ongoing threat of terrorism in the aftermath of Sept. 11 have lent further urgency to the need to re-examine the wisdom and cost-effectiveness of current sentencing and correctional policies.

The resolution approved by the ABA also endorsed, for the consideration by federal, state, territorial and local governments, a "Blueprint for Cost-Effective Pretrial Detention, Sentencing and Corrections Systems." This blueprint and excerpts from the commentary elaborating on its provisions are set forth below.

Fiscal Accountability

1. Each state and the federal government should require the preparation of correctional/fiscal impact statements and their consideration by legislators and the governor or president before legislation is enacted that would increase the number of persons subject to a particular criminal sanction, or increase the potential sentence length for any criminal offense.

2. Each state and the federal government should make laws increasing the number of persons who will be incarcerated or the length of their incarceration subject to a sunset provision when the money to fund the projected increase in the prison or jail population is not appropriated.

Sentencing And Community Corrections

3. Each state and the federal government should adopt and implement a comprehensive community corrections act that provides the structure and funding for the sanctioning of nonviolent offenders within their communities.

4. Community corrections systems should be structured to avoid unnecessary supervision and incarceration, in part through the expanded use of means-based fines.

5. Each state and the federal government should review their sentencing laws, and sentencing or parole guidelines, to accomplish the following objectives: to provide that a community-based sanction is the presumptively appropriate penalty for persons who do not present a substantial danger to the community; and to ensure that the populations subject to the jurisdiction's prison, jail or community-sanctioning systems do not exceed each system's rated capacity.

6. Each state and the federal government should review the length of sentences prescribed by law, and sentencing and parole guidelines, to ensure that they accurately reflect current funding priorities, as well as research findings that question the utility of long sentences, whether incarcerative or community-based, for certain kinds of crimes.

7. Each state and the federal government should repeal mandatory sentencing laws that unduly limit a judge's discretion to individualize sentences, so that the sentence in each case fairly reflects the gravity of the offense and the degree of culpability of the offender.

8. Each state and the federal government should review and revise sentencing laws and court procedures to provide for appropriate community-based responses to drug offenses, including treatment, in lieu of incarceration.

9. State and federal prosecutors should regularly examine their policies concerning charging, pleabargaining and sentence recommendations, in order to avoid overcharing and to make greater use of community-based sanctions.

Sentence Modifications

10. Each state and the federal government should structure its sentencing system to permit a graduated response, when appropriate, to violations of the conditions of parole or other community release. …