Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015: Will the Federal Sentencing Law Finally Get an Overhaul?

LBN’s Bob Donley reports that mandatory federal sentencing may be getting a new look that is long overdue, as LBN has previously reported. In a Congress that has not been famous for its bipartisanship and spirit of cooperation, there is a new effort to change the sentencing laws that has drawn bipartisan support.

Donley notes that the U.S. has over two million inmates behind bars, the highest prison population in the world. Republicans are aware that a steadily growing and aging prison population is expensive, in a time when tax dollars are not abundant. Stiff sentences increase the population. Changing those sentencing laws could reduce expenses.

Democrats, on the other hand, see a reduction in the harsh sentences as a social justice issue. Democrats view the current system as having ingrained racial disparities that should be changed. The bill that would change the law has been cosponsored by Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, a conservative Republican, and Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, a liberal Democrat. The bill should have “legs.”

The bill would change the way federal sentences have been imposed since the 1980s. Congress removed much discretion from federal judges and left them very little leeway in imposing sentences. The new legislation would make several important changes: The new bill would reduce sentences for non-violent offenders. Second, the bill would promote early release from prison. It would also increase the use of parole. It would also seek to improve rehabilitation of inmates in preparation for their return to society.

The new bill would restore some discretion to federal judges in imposing sentences. However, the bill would not change the sentences for violent offenders. They would still be subject to tough, mandatory sentences.

The proposal has the best chance of any effort in years to make it through both houses of Congress and actually changing federal sentencing laws. Passage is not a sure thing, but there is reason to hope.

The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.

Why Are Our Prisons So Full? David Brooks of the New York Times Has a New Theory

The United States has an enormous prison population. LBN’s Bob Donley has talked about it several times, including this report in July. Donley says that a new theory has emerged as to why our prisons are so full, holding over 2 million inmates, the largest prison population in the world.

Donley reports that David Brooks, an Op-Ed commentator for the New York Times, recently offered a different opinion. Brooks notes that the War on Drugs and mandatory minimum sentences have been blamed for America’s large prison population, as LBN has reported. But, Brooks says, “The popular explanation for how we got here, however, seems to be largely wrong, and most of the policy responses flowing from it may therefore be inappropriate.

Brooks argues that the math does not work out. He says that 90% of America’s prisoners are being held in state prisons and that only 17% of those are being held for drug convictions. Donley says that, according to Brooks, the War on Drugs cannot be the cause for the high rate of incarceration in the U.S. just based on mathematics. So ending the war will not solve the prison population problem.

Brooks relies on information in a study by Fordham law professor John Pfaff. Brooks discussed the study with Pfaff. As Brooks says, Pfaff reported that “Roughly half of all prisoners have prison terms in the range of two to three years, and only 10 percent serve more than seven years.” According to Pfaff, Donley says, very little has changed over the past thirty years.

Brooks offers a couple of thoughts by Professor Pfaff on the growth in the prison population. One is that the growth in America’s prison population tracks with the turning out of a lot of people from mental institutions in the 1970s. Donley reports that more aggressive prosecutors have played a big part in increasing the prison population. Reporting Pfaff’s theory, Brooks writes that “[Prosecutors] have gotten a lot more aggressive in bringing felony charges. Twenty years ago they brought felony charges against about one in three arrestees. Now it’s something like two in three."

That is the theory David Brooks advances on why prison populations have grown so dramatically. It should be noted that commentators Ryan King and Peter Moskos don’t agree with Brooks and Pfaff. LBN will continue to watch the incarceration issue.

The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.

Toys ‘R’ Us and NYLIC Using Temporary Visa Program to Train Foreign Workers Here, Then Move Jobs Overseas

LBN’s Emily Collins reports that a New York Times investigation has turned up some companies who are abusing the H-1B temporary visas. The Times reports that Toys ‘R’ Us has been using the visa program to bring foreigners to the United States to study the work performed by various Toys ‘R’ Us employees. The Times story tells of an accountant who had and Indian woman shadowing her for four weeks, even into the ladies room. There were a number of other such visitors at Toys ‘R’ Us for a number of weeks. Then the foreign visitors went back home with detailed manuals they had produced, and Toys ‘R’ Us moved those jobs overseas, laying off 67 American workers.

The foreigners were provided by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). TCS had been hired by the toy company to handling the outsourcing of the jobs in question to India. The H-1B visa program is a special program that has some requirements, as described by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In addition to having an employer-employee relationship with the company petitioning for the visa, the job in question must qualify as a “specialty job” by meeting one of several criteria. The typical criterion is that the foreign worker must have at least a bachelor’s degree. An employer petitioning to bring in H-1B workers must sign a declaration that the foreign workers “will not adversely affect the working conditions” of Americans or lower their wages.

Toys ‘R’ Us and New York Life Insurance Company maintain that they are not disregarding the law. However, nothing so far reported in the news suggests that the workers brought in by the companies mentioned in the New York Times story possessed special talents and abilities.

The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of Sequence Media Group.