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November 13, 2004

Calling all sociologists

The University of Chicago Legal Forum conference on Punishment and Crime was brought to a fascinating close with panels covering the "sociological perspective" and the "philosophical perspective."  Both panels were great, and I particularly came away from the first panel with a strong belief that the modern development of sentencing reforms would be greatly advanced by serious study of the sociology of sentencing decision-making and decision-makers. 

As I was listening to the sociologists describe their discipline and what it can and does contribute to the study of punishment and crime, I came to realize that a lot of the early sentencing reform literature incorporated a lot of sociological insights.  (The chapters of Marvin Frankel's Criminal Sentences: Law Without Order (1972) concerning the work of judges, parole officials and probation officers are filled with such insights.)  However, the panelists today confirmed my sense that sentencing decision-making has not been a central topic of  sociological study for quite some time. 

Perhaps there are a number of sociologists currently examining modern sentencing reforms.  If there are, I hope they will send me their work; if there aren't, I hope that Blakely might engender as much study of sentencing in the sociology academy as it is now engendering in the legal academy.

November 13, 2004 at 04:12 PM | Permalink


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Professor Berman,

Thanks so much for your both your witty and insightful keynote address and your willingness to pester other panelists with questions during our symposium this weekend.

- LF Staffer

Posted by: LegalForumStaffer | Nov 13, 2004 9:29:42 PM

Thanks for the thanks. I had a grand time, as I always do when given a chance to pester in such a fabulous forum. Thanks also for the great hospitality.

Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 13, 2004 11:34:29 PM

I was part of the sociological panel at the University of Chicago Legal Forum Symposium that Professor Berman referred to in his post on 11/13/04. The panel included John Hagan (MacArthur Professor of Sociology and Law at Northwestern), Bernard Harcourt (Professor of Law at Chicago), Tracey Meares(Max Pam Professor of Law at Chicago), and me (Calvin Morrill, Professor and Chair of Sociology and Professor of Management and Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California, Irvine). I agree with Professor Berman that we need more sociological studies of sentencing. I might add, however, that corrections and sentencing policies over the past several years have increasingly (perhaps unintentionally) moved decisional power to less visible positions (such as parole) in the criminal justice system. As a result, some of the most innovative sociological research on decision making relevant to punishment now focuses on these partially hidden and behind-the-scenes organizational locales.

Posted by: Calvin Morrill | Nov 16, 2004 4:11:58 PM

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