Sentencing Commission To Take Measure of BOP
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Sentencing Commission To Take Measure of BOP

Jul 03, 2023

We post news and comment on federal criminal justice issues, focused primarily on trial and post-conviction matters, legislative initiatives, and sentencing issues.

It’s unlikely that the Federal Bureau of Prisons will be asking prisoners that question anytime soon. But someone might.

At last week’s meeting, the U.S. Sentencing Commission said that in the coming year, it plans to assess how effective the BOP is in meeting the purposes of sentencing listed in 18 USC § 3553(a)(2). Those purposes include the need for the sentence to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, to provide just punishment and adequate deterrence, to protect the public and to effectively provide the defendant with needed training, medical care, or other treatment.

The Commission also plans to continue review of how the guidelines treat acquitted conduct for sentencing purposes. The Supreme Court recently denied review in a baker’s-dozen cases asking it to declare the use of acquitted conduct at sentencing to be unconstitutional. Three Justices cited the ongoing USSC study of the issue as a reason to hold off.

Other Commission priorities in the coming year include studying the career offender guidelines, methamphetamine offenses, sentencing differences for cases disposed of through trial versus plea, and sentences involving youthful individuals.

Speaking of prisoner satisfaction, inmates should not expect any help if they are unhappy with the chow. Two weeks ago, the 10th Circuit ruled that an inmate claim that the BOP was tampering with the food it served him – in violation of the 8th Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment – presented a new application of Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The Circuit said that the existence of alternative remedies (the BOP’s administrative remedy route, no doubt) made a Bivens claim unavailable to the prisoner under last year’s Supreme Court decision in Egbert v. Boule.

Egbert drove a metaphorical legal stake into Bivens‘ heart, as the 10th’s decision in the prisoner food case makes clear. It’s easy enough to cluck one’s tongue over Prisoner Adams’ tainted food claim (like any prison food is edible), but a lot of serious Bivens claims died on Egbert’s hill.

US Sentencing Commission, Final Priorities for Amendment Cycle (August 24, 2023)

Adams v. Martinez, Case No 22-1425, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 21369 (10th Cir, August 16, 2023)

Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 US 388 (1971)

Egbert v Boule, 142 S.Ct. 1793, 213 L.Ed.2d 54 (2022)

– Thomas L. Root