community Service means Business!

23 January 2010

Bail and Punishment

via Governing through Crime by Jonathan Simon on 1/22/10

Most Americans believe that if you are behind bars somewhere it is because you committed a crime. Kudos to NPR's Laura Sullivan for setting the record straight with her stunning multi-part story on bail and jail in America. Bottom line, thousands of Americans languish in jails accused of petty crimes but unable to meet usurious bond fees set by bondsmen (an ominous if old fashioned term for an industry comparable to the payday loan business) while in aggregate, local and state governments spend 9 billion dollars a year housing people who pose little threat and who have not been convicted by anyone but a police officer thus far. In today's piece, Sullivan's interviews with Shadu Green, a New York City resident arrested for being belligerent to the police, underscore how this invisible system of control processes many new convictions by forcing the arrested to choose between languishing in jail for months, or accepting a guilty plea that may get them out sooner.

While Sullivan emphasized the role of bail bond companies in lobbying local government to keep the current money bail system in place, this all too familiar circuit of enterprises exploiting the poor with the help of government needs to be seen in the context of the broader structure of fear based governing through crime. While bail bond enterprises may well be effective at buying cooperation from judges and county administrators, it is hard to understand why state legislatures, who control the ultimate statutory levers, would choose to leave millions on the table for benefit of local businesses. Like correctional officers and prison construction companies, self interested politics works because of a structure of beliefs about those arrested and processed by our criminal justice system that has become part of what sociologist David Garland would call the "common sense" of high crime societies (in the book, The Culture of Control).

1. Most people arrested by the police are criminals who are guilty of something (whether or not clever defense lawyers are able to get them off on technicalities).

2. The courts routinely let dangerous criminals out almost immediately, rendering the work of police largely futile.

3. While on the streets, these unconvicted criminals return to committing crimes, perhaps a faster clip to earn enough to pay off their defense lawyers.

4. No one in the community is hurt by the absence of these presumptive "predators".

As Sullivan's reporting shows, all of these assumptions are questionable.

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New Best of the Web talks: Richard Dawkins, Taylor Mali

via TED Blog by on 1/23/10

Richard_Dawkins_BOTW_blog.jpgRichard Dawkins: Growing up in the universe

At the Royal Institution in 1991, Richard Dawkins asks us to look at our universe with new eyes. Packed with big questions and illuminating visuals, this memorable journey through the history of life magnifies the splendor of evolution and our place in it.

Watch Richard Dawkins' talk now >>

Taylor_Mali_BOTW_blog.jpgTaylor Mali: What teachers make

Ever heard the phrase "Those who can't do, teach"? At the Bowery Poetry Club, slam poet Taylor Mali begs to differ, and delivers a powerful, 3-minute response on behalf of educators everywhere.

Watch Taylor Mali's talk now >>

Have a suggestion for a Best of the Web talk? Email us with the subject line "Best of the Web suggestion" and a link to the video in the body of the email.

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20 January 2010

What the 2008 Election Can Tell Us About Fighting Racism

via Sociological Images by lisa on 1/20/10

Nate Silver, famous for his analyses of the 2008 elections, predicts race-based voting in this 9 minute video with the hopes of designing interventions against racism:

(View original at

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Prevailing Wages, Living Wages, Due Diligence and Consistency *

via The Pittsburgh Comet by Bram Reichbaum on 1/20/10

This is intended as another "open thread" type post on the vaguaries of Councilman Burgess's push to activate Pittsburgh's living wage statue in conjunction with passage of the prevailing wage bill.

In 2001, council approved legislation mandating a $9.12 an hour wage plus health insurance, or $10.62 without, for virtually every worker whose job was paid, supported or subsidized with city money. "Everywhere that our shadow falls, we will ensure that workers receive a living wage," Mr. Burgess said yesterday.

But City Council then added a caveat that the rule would only take effect after Allegheny County adopted similar rules. County Council narrowly rejected an ordinance, rendering the city legislation dormant. (P-G, Rich Lord)

One way of thinking about this is that if it's good enough for Walnut Capital, it should good enough for the City itself. Which demands that we take into account that the City is still financially something of a basket case, and can we afford to swallow this even if it's obviously the right thing to do. Then I've heard it would not impact city paychecks so much as those of its vendors et cetera. Then there are issues of timing and momentum, due diligence, and preemption of something that could have been taken as rightfully settled.

Add links as news breaks, but preliminarily: my inclination is to recommend scheduling just a little extra time for due diligence and then probably passing them both. The benefits should outweigh the costs, and I generally don't buy in to economic nightmare scenarios.

*-THE DAY'S RESULTS: Yucky sounding. Go watch it on the web, and if you can figure out how to get there let me know. I'm having a l'ill trouble.

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Panhandling in Chicago

via's End Homelessness Blog by Mark Horvath on 1/20/10

There was so much noise on Chicago's Michigan Avenue Bridge that I didn't notice Reggie was asleep. I felt bad. I should have remembered when I was homeless. Sleep came when I felt safe, or when I was so exhausted I collapsed. Rarely did sleep happen at night. Rarely did I rest when I was alone and vulnerable.

The night before I met him, Reggie slept on a friend's couch. More and more people, including families, are couch surfing as an alternative to being on the streets. They're invisible when it comes to homeless counts -- just like the growing number of people in weekly-rate hotels our government does not count as homeless. Reggie is lucky his friend is only charging $5 a night. As the economy gets worse I'm hearing more stories of people taking advantage of even their own relatives.

Reggie from on Vimeo.

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Governor Announces Mid-Year Budget Cuts as Revenues Dwindle

Last week, the Rendell Administration identified $161 million in cuts to Pennsylvania's 2009-10 state budget to address a revenue shortfall driven by the severe recession. These funds are actually being placed in budgetary reserve, rather than being cut, but because of the revenue deficit it is unlikely that those funds will be available.

The plan eliminates 33 line items, including state funding for health care facilities, bio-technology research, regional community college services, rural cancer outreach, zoos, and regional history centers. More than 240 other programs, including county child welfare, mental health services, autism intervention, children’s health insurance, and Pre-K Counts, received cuts ranging from 1% to 97%. Funds from the cuts are being put into budgetary reserve, meaning they cannot be spent.

Déjà Vu, All Over Again: How Did We Get Here?

read more

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Fewer Kids Will Go To Jail, Bloomberg Promises

via Gothamist by Sabrina Jaszi on 1/20/10


Ushering in a more touchy-feely approach to juvenile delinquency, Mayor Bloomberg will make the city's Department of Juvenile Justice part of its child welfare agency. The announcement, which came in this afternoon's state of the city address, signals that the new administration intends to put fewer kids behind bars.

Currently 900 youths are held in detention centers, each at a cost of $215,000 per year, reported the NY Times. Some have only committed misdemeanors like theft. Starting immediately the city will make special efforts to ease up on juvenile offenders who aren't considered dangerous. Rather than sending them to jail, it will sometimes allow them to stay at home with their families and go to school, as long as they keep curfew, get good grades and stay out of trouble, city officials say. This type of approach, dubbed "community-based therapy," is gaining popularity as an alternative to putting kids in prison; some consider it the more developmentally sound option, but it's also a major cost-cutting measure.

In the past seven years the city has reduced the number of minors sent to jail by 56 percent, and it wants to keep bringing that number down. Still, Bloomberg says NY won't go soft on youth offenders who represent a risk to the public. “Make no mistake: there will be no coddling,” he asserted. “This is an anti-crime strategy based on real data, and we’ll measure results carefully.”

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Overstimulated on Snack Foods and Screen Time

via GOOD by Amanda M. Fairbanks on 1/20/10

When American kids aren't gorging themselves on snack foods, they're overstimulated—spending nearly every waking minute in front of an electronic device, be it a cell phone, computer, or television. A new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation looks at the changing landscape of how media functions in the lives of 8- to 18-year-olds. And the results are startling. Five years ago, when the study was last conducted, kids spent less than 6.5 hours in front of such devices. Now, the figure is up to nearly eight hours a day, which doesn't include the average of 90 minutes a day spent texting or 30 minutes of talking on the phone. Combine that with multitasking—texting while listening to music, for instance—and the figure rises even more, packing 11 hours into a 7.5 hour window. The New York Times featured Francisco Sepulveda, a 14-year-old Bronx eighth grader, who sends or receives up to 500 texts a day:  “I feel like my days would be boring without it." The study found that when parents impose limits, exposure is lessened by up to three hours a day. But if we ask kids to detune, what takes its place? Be honest. How many hours of screen-time are you clocking in each day?

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Please Fire Me: Hate on the Job You Can’t Leave

via Business Pundit by Drea on 1/20/10

Need to vent your dissatisfaction at work? Please Fire Me is a new blog devoted to the simple, oft-creative rants of dissatisfied employees. Pretty funny stuff:

Please fire me. I rarely have violent ideations except for when I’m at work, in which I imagine elaborate and gory fork-related murders.

please fire me

Please fire me. My boss thinks he’s a hipster but he’s actually just an aging, balding hippie who can afford hipster clothes.

Please fire me. My office only has one men’s bathroom and I can’t look my bosses in the eyes after hearing the noises they’ve made in there.

Please fire me. I am being forced to attend a “team building” Karaoke party. It’s on a Saturday. That’s my day off. I have to drive 100+ miles roundtrip to do it. Attendance is not optional.

Reading these makes me glad I’m self-employed.

Waste more time here.

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New Orleans: Sex Workers Now Being Charged as "sex offenders"

via The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog by lois on 1/20/10

Her Crime? Sex Work in New Orleans
By Jordan Flaherty
ColorLines magazine
With police charging sex workers as sex offenders—the majority of them Black women—activists hope the city’s mayoral elections next month will pave the way for fighting the law.

January 13, 2010

Tabitha has been working as a prostitute in New Orleans since she was 13. Now 30 years old, she can often be found working on a corner just outside of the French Quarter. A small and slight white woman, she has battled both drug addiction and illness and struggles every day to find a meal or a place to stay for the night.

These days, Tabitha, who asked that her real name not be used in this story, has yet another burden: a stamp printed on her driver’s license labels her a sex offender. Her crime? Sex work.

New Orleans city police and the district attorney’s office are using a state law written for child molesters to charge hundreds of sex workers like Tabitha as sex offenders. The law, which dates back to 1805, makes it a crime against nature to engage in “unnatural copulation”—a term New Orleans cops and the district attorney’s office have interpreted to mean anal or oral sex. Sex workers convicted of breaking this law are charged with felonies, issued longer jail sentences and forced to register as sex offenders. They must also carry a driver’s license with the label “sex offender” printed on it.

Of the 861 sex offenders currently registered in New Orleans, 483 were convicted of a crime against nature, according to Doug Cain, a spokesperson with the Louisiana State Police. And of those convicted of a crime against nature, 78 percent are Black and almost all are women.

The law impacts sex workers in both small and large ways.

Tabitha has to register an address in the sex offender database, and because she doesn’t have a permanent home, she has registered the address of a nonprofit organization that is helping her. She also has to purchase and mail postcards with her picture to everyone in the neighborhood informing them of her conviction. If she needs to evacuate to a shelter during a hurricane, she must evacuate to a special shelter for sex offenders, and this shelter has no separate safe spaces for women. She is even prohibited from very ordinary activities in New Orleans like wearing a costume at Mardi Gras.

“This law completely disconnects our community members from what remains of a social safety net,” said Deon Haywood, director of Women With A Vision, an organization that promotes wellness and disease prevention for women who live in poverty. Haywood’s group has formed a new coalition of New Orleans activists and health workers who are organizing to fight the way police are abusing the 1805 law.

Activists like Haywood believe that using the law in this way is part of an overall policy by the New Orleans Police Department to go after petty offenses. According to a report from the Metropolitan Crime Commission, New Orleans police arrest more than 58,000 people every year. Of those arrested, nearly 50 percent are for traffic and municipal offenses, and only 5 percent are for violent crimes.

“What this is really about is over-incarcerating poor and of-color communities,” said Rosana Cruz of VOTE-NOLA, a prison reform organization that is also a part of the new coalition.

Haywood, Cruz and other activists believe they have an opportunity with the mayoral and city council elections next month to change the system. With all of the candidates attempting to distance themselves from Mayor Nagin, who is prevented by term limits from running again, the new mayor is likely to be open to making changes. This includes hiring a new police chief, as all the candidates have pledged to do. Advocates are hoping this is an opportunity to shift the department’s focus. “When there's a new police chief, we can educate them,” said Haywood.

Many of the women Haywood’s group works with are at the most high-risk tier of sex work. They meet customers on the street and in bars, Haywood said. Most women are dealing with addiction and homelessness, and many cannot get food stamps or other public assistance because of felony convictions on their record.

“I’m hoping that the situation will look different because of this coalition,” Haywood said. “I can’t tell you how overwhelmed we’ve been from the needs of this population.”

Miss Jackie is one of those women. A Black woman in her 50s, she was arrested for sex work in 1999 and charged as a sex offender. Her real name, which she declined to give for this story, was added to the registry for 10 years. Miss Jackie says that when the registration period was almost over she was arrested for possession of crack. She says the arresting officer didn’t find any drugs on her person, but the judge ruled that she needed to continue to register as a sex offender for another 15 years (the new federal requirement for sex offenders) because her arrest was a violation of her registration period.

"Where is the justice?” she asked, speaking through tears. “How do they expect me to straighten out my life?” Struggling with basic needs like housing, Miss Jackie added: “I feel condemned."

Advocates and former defendants claim that the decision over who is charged under which penalty is made arbitrarily, at the discretion of police and the district attorney’s office, and that the law disproportionately affects Black people, as well as transgender women. When asked about the allegations of abusing the crime against nature statue, New Orleans Police Department spokesman Bob Young responded: “Persons are charged according to the crime they commit.”

Wendi Cooper’s story, however, paints a different picture.

In 1999, Cooper had recently come out as transgender. A Black transwoman, she tried prostitution a few times and quickly discovered it wasn’t for her. But before she quit, she was arrested. At the time, Cooper was happy to take a plea that allowed her to get out of jail and didn’t think much about what the “crime against nature” conviction would mean on her record. As she got older and began work as a healthcare professional, the weight of the sex offender label began to upset her more and more. “This is not me,” she said. “I’m not that person who the state labeled me as…it slanders me.”

Cooper appealed to the state to have her record expunged and talked to lawyers about other options, but she still must register for at least another five years and potentially longer. “I feel like I was manipulated, you know, pleading guilty to this crime…And it’s hard, knowing that you are called something that you’re not,” she said. She is also afraid now that the conviction will prevent her from getting her license as a registered nurse or from being hired.

Although some women have tried to fight the sex offender charges in court, they’ve had little success. The penalties they face became even harsher in 2006 when Congress passed the Adam Walsh act, requiring tier-1 (the least serious) sex offenders to stay in the public registry for 15 years. There’s also an added danger to fighting the charges, according to Josh Perry, a former attorney with the Orleans Public Defenders office.

“The way Louisiana’s habitual offender law works, if you challenge your sentence in court and lose, and it’s a third offense, the mandatory minimum is 20 years. The maximum is life,” he explained.

Perry estimates that on an average day two or three people are arrested for prostitution in New Orleans, and about half of them are charged under the crime against nature statute. “Right now, there are 39 people being held at Orleans Parish Prison [for] crimes against nature,” Perry told a gathering of advocates last August. “And another 15 to 20 people…charged with failure to register as a sex offender.”

Sex workers accused as sex offenders face discrimination in every aspect of the system. In most cases, they cannot get released on bond, because they are seen as a higher risk of flight than people charged with violent crimes. “This is the level of stigma and dysfunction that we’re talking about here,” said Perry. “Realistically, they’re not getting out.”

Advocates have said the ideal solution would be to get state lawmakers to change the law, but they feel there’s little hope of positive reforms from the current legislature. For now, organizers want to put pressure on police and the district attorney’s office to stop charging sex workers under the crime against nature statute.

There is a great deal of work that needs to be done. Haywood is working with lawyers and national allies to develop a legal strategy, as well as a broad local coalition that includes criminal justice reform organizations like VOTE-NOLA and activist groups like the New Orleans chapters of Critical Resistance and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence.

“We’re trying to organize, but we’re also working on the human rights side of how it’s affecting their lives,” she said. “This is a population that works in crisis mode all the time.”

Jennifer, a 23-year-old white woman who asked that her real name not be used in this story, has been working as a prostitute since she was a teenager, and also works as a stripper at a club on Bourbon Street. She recently broke free of an eight-year heroin addiction. Unless the law changes, she will have the words “sex offender” on her driver’s license until she is 48 years old.

Haywood said that stories like this show that the law has the effect of forcing women to continue with sex work. “When you charge young women with this—when you label them as a sex offender—this is what they are for the rest of their lives,” she said.

Jennifer said it’s affected her job options. “I’m not sure what they think, but a lot of places wont hire sex offenders,” she said.

Haywood said the women she sees have few options. Many of them are homeless. They are sleeping in abandoned houses or on the street, or they are trading sex for a place to stay. “The women we work with, they don't call it sex work,” she said. “They don't know what that means. They don’t even call it prostitution. They call it survival.”

Jordan Flaherty is a journalist, an editor of Left Turn Magazine, and a staffer with the Louisiana Justice Institute. He was the first writer to bring the story of the Jena Six to a national audience and audiences around the world have seen the television reports he’s produced for Al-Jazeera, TeleSur, GritTV, and Democracy Now. His post-Katrina reporting for ColorLines shared an award from New America Media for best Katrina-related reporting in ethnic press. Haymarket Press will release his new book, FLOODLINES: Stories of Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six, in 2010. He can be reached at

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This just in from Beholdmyswarthyface:



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17 January 2010

Carrying condoms could get you arrested.

via Feministing by Vanessa on 1/12/10

Jaclyn Friedman has a good post up at Amplify about an initiative in D.C. that could literally get you arrested for prostitution charges if you're caught carrying three or more condoms with you. In short, D.C. police are using their "Prostitution Free Zone" law to go as far as arresting women for carrying condoms in their purse. This is happening in New and San Francisco as well. She says:

Three. Three condoms. If you think there's a chance you're getting laid, and you're sleeping with someone who has a penis, why would you ever pack fewer than three condoms? What if one rips when you take it out of the package? What if you want to do it (*GASP*) twice? Three condoms is not a lot of condoms, people. IMHO, it's the bare minimum. I once used over a dozen in a particularly memorable weekend. And I still wasn't a sex worker.

And what if I was? As has been pointed out elsewhere, all this law (and laws like it in NYC and San Francisco) are doing is encouraging sex workers to not carry condoms. You know what that's going to do? It's not going to reduce sex trafficking. It's not going to improve the lives or working conditions of sex workers. It's not going to lock up abusers or pimps. It's going to spread disease. It's going to increase the spread of STIs (including HIV) among sex workers and their clients. And those clients will spread it even further out into the general population. And those of us who aren't sex workers but don't feel like risking arrest en route to a hot date? Some of us are going to carry fewer condoms and catch and spread more disease, too. And those of us who carry lots of condoms so we can distribute them and help other people stay safe? Well, we're obviously a criminal element, aren't we?

This attempt at a "Prostitution Free Zone" is dangerous for sex workers in too many ways.">Aziza Ahmed and Brook Kelly at RH Reality Check point out that not only will it merely convince sex workers they shouldn't carry condoms, but pushes them out of safer, more commercial neighborhoods and into unsafe areas where they're more vulnerable to harassment and assault. Community poster Nazza also offers some thoughts, who directs us to the original study on how damaging this law actually is.

The very idea that anyone could think forcing sex workers and those who aren't to choose between being arrested and being sexually safe is somehow a benefit to society just confounds me.

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Rape Victims Vs. Prison Rape Victims

via The Sexist by Amanda Hess on 1/14/10


I recently headed over to the Web site for Just Detention International (formerly Stop Prison Rape) in order to learn more about this sad study reporting high rates of sexual assaults against juvenile detainees in the U.S. (Short version: one-in-eight detained youth report being sexually assaulted within their facility within the past year; 80 percent of these victims were abused by a member of the facility’s staff).

The numbers make JDI’s current ad campaign, which attempts to raise awareness about sexual abuse within our prison system, even more striking.

Consider the rape victim above. Then, consider her after a change of clothes:


JDI’s campaign comes in three flavors. The first is aimed at addressing rape in detention facilities. The second is aimed at promoting the sexual health of detainees:



And the third is simply aimed at preventing jokes about prison rape:



I love this public-awareness campaign. I think the before-and-after effect is really on point in revealing how our society completely dehumanizes detainees by condoning their sexual assaults. However, I’m afraid that I’m a bit jaded about the expectations of the “before” part of the campaign. Unfortunately, I know that there are people out there who would look on as a woman is brutally raped. There are people out there who would refuse to allow their tax dollars to go toward basic HIV prevention. And there are people who would joke about a man being raped. (That last attitude is particularly widespread). If anything, this campaign shows that it’s time to address our attitudes that minimize the sexual assaults of detainees—and those which minimize the experiences of all other victims, too.

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make your escape

The Sentencing Commission

via Prison Talk by rellzwife2 on 1/16/10


The sentencing guidelines provide federal judges clear direction for sentencing defendants in their courts. The guidelines take into account the seriousness of the criminal behavior and the defendant’s criminal record.
In determining the severity of an offense, the guidelines use the defendant’s crime of conviction as a starting point. Certain crimes are considered more serious than others. The guidelines also take into account other factors of seriousness as they make distinctions within each type of crime. For example, the guidelines distinguish between a bank robbery in which a gun was fired at a victim and one in which a gun was merely possessed, under the theory that a robber who uses a gun should receive a stiffer sentence than one who merely possesses a gun. Similarly, an embezzlement of $100 is treated less severely than an embezzlement of $30,000.
The defendant’s past criminal record also affects the sentencing ranges. First-time offenders receive lower sentences than offenders with lengthy criminal records. Once the nature of the offense and the defendant’s criminal history have been examined, the judge uses a table to determine the range of allowable sentences. The judge must sentence the defendant within the range unless there are unusual circumstances the guidelines have not considered.
(The U.S. Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual and other Commission publications and information are available on the Commission’s Internet site at
The Sentencing Commission’s Role

Disparity in sentencing, certainty of punishment, and crime control have long been issues for Congress, the criminal justice community, and the public. Under the old law, federal judges were not required to use the same sentencing standards. They could impose a sentence that ranged anywhere from probation to the maximum penalty for the offense.
In 1984, after more than a decade of debate, Congress passed the Sentencing Reform Act to achieve greater fairness and certainty of punishment, and to target certain offenders (e.g., white collar and violent, repeat offenders) for more serious penalties.
Duties of the Commission

The Sentencing Reform Act created the United States Sentencing Commission, an independent federal agency in the judicial branch of government. The Commission’s duties include developing guidelines for sentencing in federal courts; collecting data about crime and sentencing; and serving as a resource to Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Judiciary on crime and sentencing policy.
The sentencing guidelines went into effect on November 1, 1987, and have increased uniformity and fairness in federal sentencing. They provide judges with a set of rules to ensure that similar offenders who commit similar offenses receive similar sentences.
The Sentencing Guidelines

The Sentencing Reform Act also abolished federal parole and limited to 54 days a year the credits inmates could earn for good behavior. “Truth in sentencing” is a term often applied to a system in which the sentence imposed is the sentence served. During the guidelines’ first ten years, federal judges sentenced nearly 300,000 defendants using these new rules.
The Work of the Commission

Although the guidelines are now firmly in place, the mission of the U.S. Sentencing Com mission continues. Each year, the agency collects a vast amount of federal sentencing data. The Commission also studies various crime and sentencing issues such as the public’s view of crime seriousness. Further, it reviews and refines the guidelines in light of decisions from courts of appeals, sentencing-related research, congressional action, and input from the criminal justice community. In addition, it trains thousands of criminal justice professionals in the use of the guidelines and serves as a clearinghouse of crime and sentencing information for Congress, the Executive Branch, the Judiciary, criminal justice professionals, and the public. The Commission publishes numerous reports each year, all of which are posted on its Internet home page.
Commission Members and Staff

The Sentencing Commission consists of seven voting members who are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. No more than three of the commissioners may be federal judges and no more than four may belong to the same political party. In addition, the Attorney General is an ex-officio member of the Commission, as is the Chairman of the U.S. Parole Commission.
The Commission staff includes attorneys, researchers, data technicians, administrative support personnel, and training, public information, and congressional specialists.
What are some major criminal offenses that are typically sentenced in federal courts?

--drug trafficking offenses
--fraud offenses
--immigration offenses
--bank robberies
United States Sentencing Commission


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