News Release
April 5, 2023



New Policies Increase First Steps Toward Second Chances, Take Targeted Action on Gun Trafficking and Fentanyl, and Expand Alternatives to Incarceration

WASHINGTON, D.C. ― Equipped with a quorum of Commissioners for the first time since 2018, the bipartisan United States Sentencing Commission voted today to promulgate amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines. “The Sentencing Commission is back in business,” said Chair Carlton W. Reeves. “Today, we are listening to Congress and the public by increasing first steps toward second chances, taking targeted action on gun trafficking and fentanyl, and expanding alternatives to incarceration. The policies issued today are common-sense ideas that will increase public safety while strengthening our communities.” Watch public meeting. 

During the pandemic, federal judges saved lives using their authority in 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) to reduce sentences for incarcerated people facing “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances like certain risks posed by COVID-19. Responding to the First Step Act’s directive to increase the use and transparency of this tool, the Commission updated its guidelines to reflect lessons learned since the pandemic, ensure judges can continue to take first steps toward second chances for those who deserve them, and reunite families through appropriate reentry. “Judges are in the best position to decide if someone deserves to have the length of their sentence revisited,” said Chair Reeves. “This policy trusts courts to continue doing what is right.”

Since the Commission last had a quorum, communities across the country have struggled with the ills of gun trafficking and fentanyl. Congress directed the Commission to act on gun trafficking through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act of 2022, while the Drug Enforcement Administration asked the Commission to evaluate possible action on fentanyl. In response, the Commission voted to take targeted action on both issues. “The problems of gun trafficking and drug overdoses demand a comprehensive response,” said Vice Chair Claire Murray. “I am proud to say the Commission is doing its part by ensuring we have proportional sentences for serious offenses.”

The Commission is also revising guidance to courts regarding people facing their first federal conviction. Relying on data and extensive analysis about recidivism, the Commission is acting to maximize public safety and encourage consideration of alternatives to incarceration. “Our new policies revise the sentencing guidelines based on empirical research and experience,” said Vice Chair Laura Mate. “This careful, evidence-based approach will increase fairness in sentencing and keep our communities safe.”

Among the many other policies issued by the Commission are those that seek to address ghost guns, sexual abuse of incarcerated people by correctional employees, clarify acceptance of responsibility points for defendants, and implement criminal justice legislation passed by Congress. “The policies issued today reflect the wide spectrum of views we received through public hearing testimony and tens of thousands of letters,” said Chair Reeves. “The policies issued today prove, beyond a doubt, that when you speak to the Commission, you will be heard.”

While the newly reconstituted Commission concludes its first policymaking cycle, there is more work to do. In the year to come, the Commissioners will continue to study a number of proposed policies, including those regarding how the guidelines treat acquitted conduct and the “categorical approach” to the career offender guideline. In the meantime, the Commission will send final amendments to Congress by May 1, 2023. If Congress does not act to disapprove the amendments, they will take effect on November 1, 2023. Visit the Commission’s website for more information about the amendment process and the changes approved today.


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The United States Sentencing Commission, an independent agency in the judicial branch of the federal government, was created in 1985 to ensure federal sentencing policy reflects certainty, fairness, and advancement in knowledge of human behavior.