While federal sentencing guidelines do give inmates credit for good behavior toward early release from prison, there is no parole in the federal system like there is in the state system. There are no 50-year sentences that allow for release after 20 years served (just a random example). That has meant that has state prison systems have seen a decline in their overall population, federal prisons have not.
In fact, federal prisons are 39 percent over capacity. Without substantial changes to the federal mandatory minimum sentencing structure, that number will likely continue to grow. But, Senators Rand Paul and Pat Leahy introduced a bill to help prevent prison overcrowding by bringing sentencing better inline with the actual crime a person is convicted of.
The Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 would allow judges to deviate below a guideline sentence if the sentence that the guidelines would impose does not fit the crime or the convicted individual. The bill would require:
- Judges to consider the factors listed in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) along with the sentencing guidelines when setting a prison sentence
- Any sentence would be appealable if the prosecution believes that the judge under-sentenced the individual or by the defense if the judge over-sentenced the individual
- Prosecutors would have the right to argue that the mandatory minimum sentence is appropriate before the judge considers using the safety valve
Judges must declare in writing why he or she deviated below the mandatory minimum guidelines and applied the safety valve.
The proposed bill would not give individual defendants a right to a lesser sentence, but it would allow judges additional discretion in ensuring that the punishment actually fits the crime committed.
Source: Reason, “Today Rand Paul and Pat Leahy Introduced a Bill to Fix Our Atrocious Federal Mandatory Minimum Laws, March 20, 2013