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Conference Approves Additional Cost-Saving Measures

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The Judicial Conference of the United States today approved the latest in a series of cost cutting measures, taking steps to:

  • Assure there is no overall growth in courthouse space, effective immediately;
  • Reduce the square footage occupied by the Judiciary by the end of Fiscal Year 2018;
  • Seek legislation that would avoid the costs associated with mandatory minimum sentences; and
  • Seek legislation to allow for early termination of supervised release for defendants who no longer present a risk.

While the Judiciary has been engaged in an aggressive cost containment effort for the last decade, sequestration reduced overall Judiciary funding by nearly $350 million. This has triggered broad cuts in court staff and programs and emphasized the need for continued cost containment within the Judiciary. (Further details appear in a September 10, 2013 letter (pdf) the Judicial Conference sent to the President.) 

Today the Conference endorsed a “No Net New” policy under which any increase in square footage within a circuit would need to be offset by an equivalent reduction in square footage within the same fiscal year. This policy takes effect immediately and applies to court space as of the beginning of Fiscal Year 2013. The Conference also voted to impose a three percent space reduction target by the end of FY 2018. The baseline for this policy also is space holdings in each circuit as of the beginning of FY 2013. Excluded from both policies is new courthouse work approved by Congress.

Acting on the recommendation of its Criminal Law Committee, the Conference agreed to seek legislation, such as the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 (S. 619), which is designed to restore judges’ sentencing discretion and avoid the costs associated with mandatory minimum sentences. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the average term of supervised release of an offender subject to a mandatory minimum sentence is 52 months, compared to 35 months for an offender who was not subject to a mandatory minimum. The cost of supervising an offender for one month is approximately $279.

In addition, the Conference agreed to seek legislation that permits the early termination of supervision of inmates who are “compassionately” released from prison. These offenders typically are physically incapacitated, dying or aged to the point that they no longer present a risk of harm to the community.

The Judicial Conference also approved a one-year extension of its cameras-in-the-courtroom pilot project, to run through July 18, 2015. The 14 participating courts staggered their implementation so that only about half the districts will have taken part for three years at the time of the original pilot conclusion date (July 18, 2014). In addition, a one year extension will provide more data for evaluation of the pilot.

The 26-member Judicial Conference is the policy-making body for the federal court system. The Chief Justice serves as its presiding officer. Its members are the chief judges of the 13 courts of appeals, a district judge from each of the 12 geographic circuits, and the chief judge of the Court of International Trade. The Conference meets twice a year to consider administrative and policy issues affecting the court system, and to make recommendations to Congress concerning legislation involving the Judicial Branch.