“Criminal Justice Reform” – Is Relief Coming?

There have been encouraging signs of change coming in the area of Criminal Justice Reform lately, both in Alabama and in the Federal courts. Leaders in both areas have apparently come to the reasonable conclusion that the current system is untenable and unsustainable in the long term. Have we seen the beginning of a thaw in tough mandatory sentences?

In Alabama, we have seen the introduction of the “Presumptive Sentencing Guidelines,” a set of rules meant to standardize sentences for drug and property crimes statewide. Recommendations under these guidelines are heavily dependent on calculations of a person’s criminal history, as well as the conduct alleged in a case. The end result is a presumptive sentence of either jail time or probation. If the sentencing judge wants to impose a sentence outside the guidelines’ recommendation, he or she must make written findings of fact to support that decision.

At the federal level, we have seen reductions in the punishment for both drug offenses (reduction in the offense levels for various weights of drugs) and fraud offenses (similar reductions for monetary amounts.) There is talk among people who closely follow this area that more changes to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines may be coming.

Only time will tell what the long term effects of these reforms will be, and whether the trend of reducing sentences for property and drug offenses will bleed over into other areas. For now, it is encouraging for me to see incremental change starting to show up in the area of sentencing.

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