Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sentencing Nerd Red Alert!

Sentencing nerds, it's that time of year!  The U.S. Sentencing Commission has posted its 2011 Annual Report and Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics.  Grab some grub and lock yourself in your bedroom or office, so you can bury yourself in all this data goodness.

Ever wondered how many marijuana offenders were sentenced in the federal courts last year?  Check out Table 33.  (By the way, it was 6,961.)

Want to know how many people got less than the mandatory minimum sentence because of the "safety valve," a reform FAMM championed back in 1994?  Table 44 has the answer.  (It's 5,632 drug offenders -- 23% of all federal drug offenders sentenced last year.  Did you know that over 80,000 people have received less time in prison because of the safety valve since it's passage?  Not bad for one little reform, huh?)

Curious about how many federal drug offenders got mandatory minimum sentences last year?  It's 15,412 (see Table 43).

Not interested in drug offenses?  Table 3 breaks down all the offense types sentenced.  You know, most people hear "federal prison" and think it must be reserved for scary serial killers, but only 66 people were sentenced in federal courts for murder last year.  Most types of violent offenders end up in state prisons, not federal ones.

So, who's really getting sentenced in federal courts?  It might shock you:

  • Nearly 35% (!!!) of all federal offenders got sentenced for immigration offenses
  • Another 30% were sentenced for drug offenses
  • 9.8% were sentenced for fraud offenses
  • 9.2% were sentenced for gun offenses, and
  • 2.2% were sentenced for child pornography offenses.

And did you know that nearly 87% of all federal offenders got prison-only sentences in 2011?  Only a measly 7.1% got probation. Message to Congress:  if you're worried that we're not sufficiently "tough on crime," ahem, don't be.  Prison is -- by any standard -- tough, and virtually everyone convicted in federal courts is getting it.

This data reveals many problems with our system. Are we sending the right kinds of offenders to federal courts?  Are we sending too many people to federal prisons?  (Yes, obviously. The Bureau of Prisons is at 35% over its capacity!)

What issues do you see in the numbers?