Criminal Justice Services

Sentencing Advocacy & Mitigation

Since 1977, the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives (NCIA) has provided sentencing advocacy and criminal justice services to defense attorneys, defendants, inmates, and court systems throughout the country. We have worked with more than 20,000 defendants in all 50 states and in five foreign countries. When assisting defense attorneys handling sentencing of their clients, NCIA provides assistance by designing individualized sentencing data reports, videos, and other supplementary materials. Our alternative sentencing proposals frequently include the use of creative community service that draws on the offender’s strengths and background, substance abuse counseling, work-release, home confinement, and community confinement.

In addition to sentencing advocacy, we also provide parole release advocacy, institutional designation and transfer, and release planning. When assisting court systems, NCIA has developed and implemented sentencing advocacy programs in 15 states and trained thousands of public defenders, probation officers, and other sentencing advocates.

NCIA Criminal Justice Services staff are often sought out for their expertise. The services we offer include:

Federal Sentencing Consultation
NCIA’s Criminal Justice Services group has extensive experience preparing clients for sentencing in Federal court. We have worked closely with the defense bar for almost 40 years, researching and investigating alternative sentencing options, sentencing mitigation theories and other ways to lessen the impact of incarceration on offenders and their families.

Since the inception of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines in 1987, NCIA has remained abreast of the frequent guideline amendments, the sentencing approaches that have developed around the guidelines, and the emerging empirical studies (academic, social, cultural, medical and psychiatric) that lend themselves to arguments in support of departures from the guidelines. Post-Booker, NCIA has been on the leading edge of developing mitigation presentations, including sentencing videos and historical sentencing data analysis. Additionally, we are intimately familiar with Bureau of Prisons (BOP) policies and practices through years of experience, communication with BOP staff, outside program personnel, and others, including current clients committed to the Bureau’s custody.

NCIA staff assist defense counsel and prepare a client for sentencing or prison by:

  • Developing personal and professional background information and materials highlighting client’s history and character for submission to the probation officer and/or the Court by defense counsel;
  • Advising defense counsel on the pre-sentence investigation process and probation interview;
  • Conducting a disparity analysis of sentences imposed upon similarly situated offenders in federal courts using United States Sentencing Commission data.
  • Creating sentencing videos that provide sentencing judges an additional lens through which to view the client. Videos can humanize a client and capture their blemish free life through the testimony and stories of those they have affected positively. The video submission is a collaborative effort between NCIA, the videographer, the client, defense and those who stories best illustrate the message we want to deliver.
  • Reviewing, analyzing and assessing the draft Pre-Sentence Report (PSR). Assisting in preparing formal response to the PSR;
  • Coordinating character reference letters and testimonials;
  • If appropriate, developing a community-based sentencing alternative, and preparing materials for the court outlining a specific alternative sentencing proposal with supporting documentation.
Federal Sentencing Statistical Analysis
The United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) maintains a comprehensive, computerized database of federal sentencing information. For more than a decade, the NCIA has developed and used a reporting tool designed to aid defense teams as it relates to sentencing mitigation called the Federal Sentencing Statistical Analysis (FSSA) report. FSSA was designed to help criminal defense teams determine the reasonableness of the government’s incarceration demand upon the court. The FSSA produces a comprehensive statistical comparison which contrasts a client’s guidelines against sentences actually imposed in similar cases. This process allows the defense to analyze multiple factors that can affect a client’s total guidelines exposure. The FSSA has become a powerful tool for defendants with well over 150 cases winning significant downward variances based on the findings brought forward from the FSSA results. NCIA supports defense teams using FSSA with our own internal counsel to help develop strategies, determine alternative analysis scenarios amongst other consultative services.

This collection contains information on federal criminal cases sentenced under the Sentencing Guidelines and Policy Statements of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. The data files included in this FSSA contain all cases received by the USSC that were sentenced between October 1, 2002 and September 30, 2014. United States Federal Courts handled more than a million criminal cases between the fiscal years 2002 and 2014. The USSC estimates that 99 percent of all cases are included in the data collection.

Types of information gathered in the data sets includes:

  • Statute(s) of conviction (including statutory ranges and mandatory minimums)
  • Guideline applied
  • Whether the defendant entered into a plea agreement or was convicted after trial
  • All guideline calculations
  • Criminal history information
  • Final offense level and guideline range
  • District and circuit where the defendant was sentenced
  • The sentence imposed; detailed description of how the sentence will be served
  • Reasons for departure or variance
  • Financial penalties ordered
Development of Alternative Sentencing Plans

In 1978, NCIA prepared its first Alternative Sentencing Plan, using community service as social restitution. NCIA has continued to advocate for and write about the emergence of the imposition of community service as an alternative sentence.

18 U.S.C  §3553(a) mandates the sentencing court to consider “the kinds of sentences available.” This mandate allows a community service order to satisfy the goals of sentencing in appropriate cases. Community service offers judges an alternative sentence they can consider for defendants who can offer invaluable services and expertise to community organizations. Substantial community service can sufficiently recognize the grave seriousness of white-collar crimes in particular, and utilize the time, skills and expertise of individuals who can be a benefit to communities in need.

NCIA assists defense counsel to prepare alternative sentencing proposals to the courts. This includes gathering client background information, identifying organizations in a client’s community that would benefit from the client’s unique abilities and developing extensive community service placement for the client.

Development of Sentencing Videos
In the face of the Booker decision, a client’s personal history and characteristics have obtained a new relevance in the sentencing world. The courts now consider an offender’s lifetime of good deeds, service to the community, positive contributions to society, and their overall background in sentencing departure decisions. Traditionally these characteristics of the client are conveyed through submitting character letters to the court. In addition to coordinating character letters for submission, we have found inclusion of a character video to be a powerful tool to communicate the emotion and sentiments of a client’s references that cannot be felt in a letter.

View a sample of an NCIA sentencing video 

*NCIA received permission from the client to post this video

Incarceration Management & Federal Prison Consultation
If and when an NCIA client is sentenced to a term of incarceration, NCIA staff assist the client and family members in the transition from the community to a state or federal prison. These services are varied and include:

  • Assisting the client in obtaining the most appropriate prison facility. This includes working with federal and state classification and designation authorities in determining the facility that best meets the client and family needs. Critical to this process is developing information and documentation prior to sentencing that provides the necessary information through the presentence report.
  • Becoming the advocate for our clients in the designation process. Absent advocacy, many clients are designated to facilities that are inappropriate and not conducive to family visitation.
  • Once a designation is made, NCIA assists our clients in both the practical and psychological aspects of imprisonment. These include:
    • understanding the federal and state prison regulations
    • assisting with information such as visiting hours, mail, commissary, telephone, items that are allowed in prison, etc.
    • assisting clients in understanding the “culture” of imprisonment
    • assisting families in understanding their visiting regulations and explaining the process
  • Our tenet is that information is critical and that the more our clients can be prepared, the easier the transition is for them.
  • Finally, when appropriate, we “partner” our clients with an existing NCIA client who is in a particular federal facility. For the past 40 years, we have assisted thousands of clients and have developed a substantial network of resources throughout the country. Having a currently incarcerated client to assist in the first couple of weeks of imprisonment is invaluable.
Residential Drug Abuse Program, RDAP
NCIA offers comprehensive consulting services to defendants and their counsel regarding RDAP program locations, qualifications and admission criteria. We have successfully assisted over 1000 clients with RDAP representation.Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) is an intensive substance abuse program administered by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) offered to federal prisoners who qualify and voluntarily elect to enroll. Upon successful completion of the program, prisoners who meet the necessary criteria are eligible for up to a 12-month reduction of their sentence and up to six months in a community confinement.The Supreme Court has approved the BOP’s exercise of discretion to deny early release to defendants with prior convictions for certain offenses, as well as to defendants who received an enhancement for possessing a gun.Violent offenses normally disqualify defendants from the early release portion of the program. Felony or misdemeanor convictions for homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and child sexual abuses all render a prisoner ineligible to participate.The program is open to inmates with a documented history of substance abuse in the 12-month period prior to arrest for the sentence they are currently serving. It is authorized in 18 U.S.C. § 3621. RDAP is only available to inmates in federal prisons. State prisoners are not eligible to participate.Consulting with a professional experienced in sentence mitigation improves a defendant’s acceptance rate into the program, particularly when charges implicate an individual in a violent crime. We strongly urge that criminal defense attorneys provide advice on these matters as early as possible in the criminal justice process.Research commissioned by the BOP revealed lower rates of recidivism and a higher quality of life upon returning to civilian life for offenders who successfully complete the program.
Post-Incarceration Services
Many defendants think their term ends upon release from prison. Nothing could be further from the truth. If a defendant in the federal system is leaving prison there is a good chance that he/she will still be in BOP custody until he/she completes his prison term (for sentences greater than 6 months). If a person is going to a Residential Re-entry Center (halfway house) he/she will be working with the BOP’s Community Corrections Management. If he/she is eligible to be transferred to home confinement (the last 6 months or 10% of the sentence, whichever is less), your client will transition from the RRC with another set of rules and requirements.

After leaving BOP custody he/she will start his supervised release period which is often for a period of 3 years. In all cases they will be following different rules and working with different branches of the Justice Department. Once he/she has completed his sentence he/she will then start supervised release and be under the supervision of the U.S. Probation office, which is part of the U.S. District Courts (Judiciary Branch of the Federal system, as opposed to the Department of Justice). It is the responsibility for the U.S. Probation Office to make sure that every defendant complies with the requirements of his supervised release. Supervised release often contains many different conditions such as travel restrictions, monthly reporting and payment compliance of any fines and restitution he/she may owe. If there is a fine or restitution outstanding during his supervised release period you will most likely be dealing with the U.S. Attorney’s Financial Litigation Unit. Once a person has completed his sentence (finalized supervised release) then he/she could have local issues such as reinstatement of State voting rights and other disenfranchisement issues.

NCIA Post Incarceration services include assisting with:

  1. RRC/Half-way house placement and consultation; anything from preparing the person on the rules/culture of the RRC, what they can bring with them, obtaining forms of identification; access to their motor vehicle, job hunting, getting the early release to home confinement, advocating for the client with the RRC, etc.
  2. Home confinement consultation.
  3. Supervised release consultation – this would include preparing for the probation officers meeting, monthly report, travel requirements, restitution and fine payments, etc.
Parole Services
NCIA also assists inmates in assessing their chances for parole, and developing strategies that will increase their likelihood of obtaining parole release. Following a personal interview, and review of pertinent social and legal information and offense-related behavior, a post-release plan is prepared that addresses the issues of public safety and risk of recidivism through stable residence, employment, support services and community supervision. Reports are submitted to the parole board examiners, and when possible, NCIA staff attend the parole board hearing in further support of the release report.
Criminal Defense Updates
Criminal Defense Updates by Herbert J. Hoelter, Co-Founder and CEO.

Continue reading »

For further information contact Herbert Hoelter at or 443.780.1311.

Our Professionals

Herbert J. Hoelter, NCIA’s Chief Executive Officer, has assisted in over 1,000 white collar cases during his 38-year career. His expertise in anti-trust, tax, fraud and other individual and corporate crimes is unparalleled. He has also trained and mentored hundreds of other sentencing professionals.


Herbert J. Hoelter

Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Herbert J. Hoelter is cofounder and chief executive officer of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives (NCIA). Founded in 1977, NCIA is regarded as one of the most progressive and effective criminal justice organizations in the country. NCIA is headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland.

Mr. Hoelter is recognized as one of the country’s leading experts in sentencing and the federal prison system and in developing alternative programs to incarceration. He directs NCIA’s sentencing and parole services, which has prepared cases in all 50 states, 75 federal jurisdictions, and three countries. Since 1977, over 20,000 NCIA cases have been presented for consideration by sentencing courts and parole boards. Mr. Hoelter has particular expertise in federal court and white-collar crime, having assisted in the representation of many of the insider trading, tax, securities and corporate fraud cases.

Mr. Hoelter holds a Master of Social Work degree from Marywood University in Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Buffalo. He has served as an adjunct faculty member at American University and on the faculty of the National Judicial College. He has lectured on sentencing advocacy and reform for over 20 state and local Bar Associations and was the representative of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) before the United States Sentencing Commission on the subject of alternatives to incarceration. Mr. Hoelter has also served as cochair of the NACDL post-conviction committee. He has appeared on ABC’s 20/20, CNN’s Crossfire, Good Morning America, Nightline and many other television and radio shows.

Mr. Hoelter has written extensively on the U.S. criminal justice system. He is coeditor of The Real War on Crime (HarperCollins, 1996) which advances promising solutions for criminal justice policy in the United States. He has authored articles for The Federal Sentencing Reporter, The Judges Journal, the American Bar Association’s Journal on Law Related Education, Federal Probation, The Champion, and The New England Journal on Civil and Criminal Confinement, as well as numerous legal newsletters. Check out some of his Criminal Defense Updates here.

7130 Rutherford Road
Baltimore, Maryland 21244
443.780.1353 phone
410.265.8078 fax



Nancy F. Getter, LGSW

Case Associate 

Ms. Getter is a Case Associate for Criminal Justice Services at NCIA.  Through in-depth interviews with clients, Ms. Getter gathers background information to include in the Personal and Professional section of sentencing memos.  Her comprehensive write-ups include a summary of a client’s personal life, his or her career history, and supportive highlights from character reference letters written on the client’s behalf by family members, friends, colleagues, professional associates and community members.  Ms. Getter also arranges appropriate community service placements that match client skills with nonprofit organization needs.  Once the client begins his or her community service work, Ms. Getter details the client’s contribution to the agency in the Community Service section of the sentencing memo.

Nancy Getter joined NCIA in October 2016.  She has an extensive background in the social work field including community organizing, child abuse prevention through intensive parenting support and education, career counseling, and university administration.  She earned her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Maryland School of Social Work and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Dartmouth College.

7130 Rutherford Road
Baltimore, Maryland 21244


Administrative Office
7130 Rutherford Road
Baltimore, MD 21244

Career Development Center
2621 Lord Baltimore Drive
Baltimore, MD 21244

Youth In Transition School
7205 Rutherford Road
Baltimore, MD 21244

HJH Vocational Training Center - Baltimore
301 South Central Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21202

HJH Vocational Training Center - Charlotte
517 Blairhill Rd.
Charlotte, NC 28217



Sign Up For Our Newsletter
Stay up to date with the latest and greatest news at NCIA.