United States Sentencing Commission - 2018-2019 Public Priorities Selection

Dear colleagues: 


On Thursday, August 23rd, the United States Sentencing Commission held its public policy hearing (less than 30 minutes!) on their proposed 2018-2019 priorities. Justice Strategies thanks all of you for joining us in elevating the critical needs of children and their parents who face federal sentences. We commend the many of you (over a dozen) who submitted individual letters to the Commission in support of a study of family ties and responsibilities. We showed to the Commission the importance this issue has in our communities. While Commissioner Barko made a valiant effort in raising the need for a study of family ties and responsibilities, the Commission chose to not adopt it as a policy priority for 2018-2019.  Here is the USSC Chair's response: 


The public will see that two items that were listed in our notice of tentative priorities but not in our final priorities, but not because they are not important… 


Second, the Commission has also chosen not to proceed with further study regarding the guidelines for family ties and responsibilities of the defendant. The Commission understands and appreciates the tremendous impact incarceration has on the families and children of defendants. While not ordinarily relevant, the Guidelines Manual does have a downward departure provision based on loss of caretaking and financial support when the defendant’s service of a sentence within the applicable guideline range will cause a substantial, direct, and specific loss of essential caretaking, or essential financial support, to the defendant’s family. The provision provides further guidance to the court by providing a non-exhaustive list of factors to consider in determining whether a downward departure is warranted. The Commission believes that the current policy statement operates as intended.


Given this was only our second attempt at requesting the Commission to study family ties and responsibilities, and this time our request saw the light of day, making it to the stage of tentative policy priority rather than being ignored, we will continue exploring ways to call attention to the necessity of respecting family integrity at all levels of the criminal justice system. We’ll keep you posted on our collective efforts and hope you will join us whenever possible. Please keep us posted on your efforts as well.


Have a beautiful week!




Patricia Allard, LL.B, LL.M, MA

Senior Research & Policy Analyst

Justice Strategies

Patricia Allard


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