U.S. Sentencing Commission Makes Unanimous Decision to Implement First Step Act, ‘Compassionate Release’

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Illustration courtesy of FirstStepAct.org

By Perla Brito and Daniella Dueñas

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States Sentencing Commission made a collective decision to approve its policy priorities for the 2022-2023 amendment year — the top of their list is the First Step Act of 2018, the so-called “compassionate release.”

The First Step Act provides eligible inmates an opportunity to file for compassionate release, under the notion they earn 10 to 15 days of time credit for every 30 days they participate in a program that reduces recidivism. However, this statute has not been added in the guidelines.

Because of this, appellate courts do not feel the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s policy statement presiding over compassionate release applies to the inmates who file for compassionate release. Nonetheless, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to debate about what specifically constitutes a “valid reason” for compassionate release.

Judge Carlton W. Reeves, chair of Commission, said, “The conflicting holdings and varying results across circuits and districts suggest that the courts could benefit from updated guidance from the Commission, which is why we have set this as an important part of our agenda this year.”

He explained the First Step Act mitigates the statutory mandatory minimum penalties for certain drug trafficking offenders. The First Step Act was also extended to certain offenders with more than one criminal record.

As a result, the U.S. Sentencing Commission plans to revise amendments to section 5C1.2 to acknowledge the updated statutory criteria and consider modifications to the 2-level reduction in the drug trafficking guideline that is tied to the statutory safety valve.

In addition, the commission also started to implement criminal provisions contained in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which includes increased penalties for certain firearms offenses, and other legislative enactments that require Commission action.

To address conflicts and other issues, the Commission published priorities that were not yet definite. In response to this, the commission received more than 8,000 public comments in the form of letters.

“We look forward to a careful and detailed examination of these issues and our continued interaction with the public to ensure the federal sentencing guidelines properly reflect current law and promote uniformity in sentencing,” promised Reeves.

This detailed examination includes addressing key components of the guidelines of the First Step Act. To tackle these conflicts and other issues involving criminal history, there will be projects and programs created to reap benefits of these alternatives-to-incarceration programs.

The commission said it intends to do research by analyzing the structure, post U.S. v. Booker, of the advisory guideline system and by examining case laws based on the guidelines commentary.

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About The Author

Perla Brito is a 4th year undergraduate student at California State University, Long Beach. She is majoring in Criminology and Criminal Justice and is set to graduate by Spring 2023. After graduation she plans on working at a local police department in the criminal investigations division. She intends to pursue a Masters in Psychology with a focus in Neuroscience in hopes of working on neurocriminology research one day.

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