Don’t Wait for Congress to Act to Seek Sentence Relief
By Derek Gilna
This past week I have seen many inquiries from individuals who wrote something to the effect of this: “I will wait for Smart Sentencing and then file something,” or has “Smart Sentencing been passed?” If the past several years are any indicator of the future, the time to seek relief is now, period.
Unfortunately, quick action on sentence relief or reform will not come from Congress, who is more interested in the November elections than they are in a prisoner’s problems. All relief that has come about recently has been initiated by the Sentencing Commission, the Courts, or the Executive Branch. As to the latter, does anyone think that the next Administration will be more favorable to prisoners than this one? I didn’t think so. Those with plans to file for executive clemency, pardon, or commutation should do so without delay.
That’s not to say that the “Smart Sentencing” bill will not be helpful, but it has only passed committee, and no votes by the full Congress are scheduled at this time. Nothing will happen, if it does happen, until after the November elections. It will also take time to implement that bill even it passes immediately. Also remember that the language of the bill might be changed dramatically and not necessarily for the better, if and when it does pass and get signed into law. And, if it doesn’t pass until a year or two years from now, will the next President even sign it, or will the political pressure from the private prison industry, guard’s unions, and other decision-makers opposed to reducing prisoner counts, and with it, prison jobs in their legislative districts and states.
Even those of you with life sentences and career criminal designations should have hope, because the environment for prisoner relief has never been more propitious. There are many options for potential relief. However, if you wait for Congress to make good things happen on your behalf, I suspect you will be disappointed.