The U.S. Sentencing Commission wants to let federal judges impose a sentence of probation for certain drug offenders if they participate in a substance abuse treatment program.
The proposed new guideline is one of several proposals that the commission recently published for public comment.
The sentencing guidelines currently give courts the authority to sentence eligible defendants to community confinement, intermittent confinement, or home detention as alternatives to prison. To receive the probation alternative, the commission said the offender must be a willing participant in the treatment program and must have committed the offense while addicted to a controlled substance. The offender also must have committed a lower-level offense.
The commission also is requesting comment on other issues related to alternative sentencing. One example: whether defendants suffering from other conditions, for example, mental or emotional problems, should be eligible for treatment programs instead of jail.
Last September the commission indicated that studying alternatives to prison would be one of its policy priorities.
The proposed guidelines also would implement the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The sentencing guideline for offenses involving individual rights would be broadened to include willfully causing bodily injury to a person because of the person’s race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. “Gender identity” also would be included in the penalty enhancement for hate crimes.
The commission is also seeking public comment on the extent to which specific offender characteristics should be relevant at sentencing. It focuses on five characteristics in particular: age; mental and emotional condition; physical condition, including drug dependence; lack of guidance as a youth; and military, civic, charitable, or public service, employment-related contributions, and prior good works.
The public comment period runs through mid-March and a public hearing on the proposed amendments is scheduled for March 18 in Washington.