In 2014, Congress created a bipartisan panel of experts called the Chuck Colson Task Force to spend a year reviewing the federal criminal justice system. The Task Force was chaired by two former members of Congress, J.C. Watts (R-OK) and Alan Mollohan (D-WV), and included corrections experts and former judges, prosecutors, and criminal defense lawyers. On January 26, 2016, the Task Force released its recommendations for improving federal sentencing, prisons, and reentry. Read the full recommendations here.
The Task Force’s recommendations are only recommendations – they do not change laws, reduce sentences, or bring people home from prison sooner. However, the recommendations will be shared with members of Congress, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), and the President. FAMM will be urging lawmakers and policymakers to follow the Task Force’s recommendations and make the changes they suggest.
WHY THE RECOMMENDATIONS MATTER:
The Task Force’s recommendations are notable and extensive – even historic. They are also based on data and what works, not politics or unfounded fears about crime. In fact, the recommendations call for broader sentencing reforms than those included in any bill currently pending in the 114th Congress, and they call for giving prisoners significant sentence reductions for rehabilitation in prison.
IMPACT OF THE RECOMMENDATIONS: If the Task Force’s recommendations were fully adopted and implemented, they would save taxpayers $5 billion and reduce the federal prison population by 60,000 people by 2024. This would eliminate federal prison overcrowding entirely.
- Sentencing should be individualized, not one-size-fits-all
- Federal sentencing should include greater use of probation, drug and mental health and veterans courts, and other alternatives to incarceration – prison should be reserved for only the most serious offenders
- Congress should repeal all mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug crimes, except the Continuing Criminal Enterprise (CCE, 21 U.S.C. § 848) statute, which applies to high-earning, large-quantity drug traffickers – and make such reforms retroactive
- The U.S. Sentencing Commission should revise all drug sentencing guidelines so that sentences are determined by the role a person played, and the Commission should create more alternatives to incarceration and increase the availability of probation under the guidelines
- Congress should make the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010’s reforms to mandatory minimum crack cocaine sentences retroactive immediately
- Congress should fix good time credit so that prisoners can earn up to 54, not just 47, days off each year for good behavior in prison
- Congress should create a “safety valve” exception for the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for possessing a gun in the course of a drug trafficking offense (18 U.S.C. § 924(c)), so that judges can go below that sentence if the facts and circumstances of the case require it
- Congress and the U.S. Sentencing Commission should review all other mandatory minimum sentences and determine whether they are producing just sentences
- Whenever a new mandatory minimum sentence is created, it should “sunset” (automatically disappear and stop being required) after five years, and its cost and impact on prisons should be determined before it is passed into law
- Federal prosecutors should not charge and prosecute drug cases that are not federal in nature and can be handled by state authorities
- Congress should restore Pell Grants to federal prisoners so that they can pursue college degrees in prison
- All federal prisoners except those serving life sentences should be eligible to earn up to 20 percent off their sentences for completing rehabilitative programs that reduce their risk of recidivism – the time earned would be actual time off the sentence, not time in another form of BOP confinement (e.g., a halfway house)
- The BOP should make the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) and its one-year sentence reduction available to all prisoners who can complete the program
- The BOP should create more rehabilitative programming and education for prisoners
- The BOP should not use solitary confinement to punish disciplinary infractions except in extraordinary circumstances, and for no longer than necessary
- The BOP should house prisoners as close to their families as possible
- The BOP should make it easier for prisoners to visit with their families, including using video conferencing for visits
- The BOP should reserve halfway houses for medium- and high-risk people and use more alternatives to halfway houses for low-risk people
- The President should “ban the box” so that formerly incarcerated people do not have to report their convictions on employment applications for federal contractors
- Congress should allow people to petition courts for early release after they have served 15 years in federal prison; if denied, people should be able to re-petition for early release every 5 years.
Chuck Colson Task Force website
CCTF Full Recommendations
To download this explainer as a PDF click here.