In Tapia v. United States, the Supreme Court held that federal law prohibits federal judges "from imposing or lengthening a prison term in order to promote a criminal defendant's rehabilitation." That law is at 18 U.S.C. § 3582(a), which states that "imprisonment is not an appropriate means of promoting correction and rehabilitation."
Last week, in United States v. Thornton, the Tenth Circuit clarified the reach of Tapia, making four points:
"First, denials of downward-variance motions are subject to Tapia scrutiny. Second, Tapia error can occur even when a district court articulates additional valid reasons for the prison sentence. Third, a district court need not expressly link a prison sentence to a specific treatment program in order to trigger Tapia error. Fourth, there is no Tapia error when a district court addresses rehabilitation merely to refute an offender’s argument that in-prison treatment justifies a lesser sentence, but there is error when the district court goes further and grounds his sentence, in part, on the perceived benefit to the offender of providing prison-based rehabilitation."