« Poetic sentencing justice thanks to Wal-Mart | Main | Finding "Compassion in Juvenile Sentencing" »

February 4, 2008

Connecticut getting serious about a serious sentencing commission

This local news piece reports on another state getting serious about creating a permanent sentencing commission.  Here are the basics (with a notable guidelines twist):

A panel of experts is expected to recommend that the state form a permanent commission to study sentencing in criminal courts, racial disparities in prisons and other issues.  The panel, a temporary task force created by the state legislature, will make dozens of recommendations when it releases its final report this month. Among them will be a recommendation that Connecticut join 26 states that have permanent bodies to examine criminal justice....

A permanent commission has almost unanimous support, as long as it would not have the power to set up sentencing guidelines that judges and many attorneys oppose.... "The judges would have a problem with any permanent commission that is a precursor to guidelines," said Judge Patrick Carroll, the state's deputy chief court administrator. Carroll likely has nothing to worry about. "We're not into guidelines in this state - not judges, prosecutors or defense lawyers," said Thomas Ullmann, a public defender in New Haven who headed the task force subcommittee studying the possibility of a permanent commission.

The commission likely would be made up of a rotating group of appointed experts from all areas of the justice system, officials said. "I think it's a great idea," Ullmann said. "It will help us create sound policy." Connecticut needs a permanent task force in part because record-keeping is so confusing that it is almost impossible for lawmakers to analyze state courts, the task force concluded.... "There is not a clear understanding of how offenders are moving through the criminal justice system," the task force concluded in its interim report.  "Data is not shared among agencies." 

An out-of-state consultant who served on the temporary task force said she was stunned by how difficult it was to get basic data. Barbara Tombs, a senior fellow at the Vera Institute of Justice in New York City, a nonprofit that researches criminal justice issues, asked the state for a report on how many inmates in prison on burglary charges had prior burglary arrests.  The state could not provide the data, Tombs said. The state could not set how many people had been convicted of murder in recent years, she said. "These are very basic things you should know about your system," Tombs said....

The anti-guidelines sentiment in Connecticut is not just notable, but deeply ironic, given that a lot of the ideas and support for sentencing guidelines at the federal level emerged from work at Yale Law School.  Yale Professors like Dennis Curtis and Dan Freed and Kate Stith and Stan Wheeler all played major roles in the federal guideline sentencing story, but now it seems sentencing guidelines are a reviled concept to state actors in Yale's backyard.

February 4, 2008 at 10:41 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Connecticut getting serious about a serious sentencing commission:


It will be interesting to see whether the Eighth affirms. The judge went out of his way not to stick it to the Court of Appeals. Has anyone seen a district judge take the opportunity, post-Gall, to show their displeasure with the approach formerly taken by the Courts of Appeals?

Posted by: Mark | Feb 4, 2008 11:57:01 AM

Note: my comment above was placed next to the wrong article. It's for the Coughlin sentencing article.

Posted by: Mark | Feb 4, 2008 11:58:22 AM

Actually, Yale Law professors have been present at both the dawn and throughout the decline, if not demise, of the federal sentencing guidelines (FSG). Dennis Curtis et al. advocated (1975) a statutory guidelines regime very different from the federal SRA. Dan Freed, another early supporter of the concept of guidelines, expressed (1987; 1992) powerful and deep disappointment in the FSG. The late Stan Wheeler's work actually concluded that federal judges were already operating in an implicit (advisory) guidelines system. And, please, do not include Kate Stith as having playing any role in the FSG story except that of skeptic and opponent of the utopian scheme to achieve "equality" in sentencing via comprehensive and mandatory rules for judges. See, e.g., Fear of Judging (1998) (with J.A. Cabranes) and subsequent publications on the FSG, including the forthcoming "Arc of the Pendulum: The Exercise of Discretion in Sentencing," Yale Law Journal (2008).

Posted by: Kate Stith | Feb 5, 2008 10:04:05 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB