Wednesday, February 27, 2013
US Sentencing Commission releases big new report on federal child porn sentencingAs reported in this official press release, this morning "the United States Sentencing Commission submitted to Congress its comprehensive report examining federal sentencing policy in child pornography cases." Here is more from the press release, which serves as a partial summary of the 468-page(!) report (which is available in full here):
All the pieces of this important new report are available via this link. The press release summary alone suggests there is considerable food for sentencing thought in this important new USSC report, and I am going to start my view by reading closely the 26-page executive summary available here.
Although still only a small percentage of the overall federal caseload, child pornography prosecutions have grown significantly during the past decade and now account for nearly 2,000 federal cases each year. That growth reflects the increasing role of the Internet in child pornography offenses. Before the Internet, law enforcement officers had significantly curtailed the child pornography market in the United States.
Significant technological changes in offenders’ conduct have occurred since the federal penal statutes and sentencing guidelines for child pornography offenses were last amended comprehensively a decade ago. Child pornography offenders today typically use Internet technologies such as peer-to-peer file-sharing programs that enable offenders to distribute, receive, and collect child pornography images more easily and in greater quantities than when the current penalty structure was established. Several penalty enhancements in the guidelines for child pornography offenses,such as use of a computer, now apply to typical offenders. As a result, prison sentences for efendants convicted of federal child pornography offenses have almost doubled in the last decade to approximately five years for possession and 11 years for receipt and distribution.
Judge Saris concluded, “Because of changes in the use of Internet-based technologies, the existing penalty structure is in need of revision. Child pornography offenders engage in a variety of behaviors reflecting different degrees of culpability and sexual dangerousness that are not currently accounted for in the guidelines.”
The Commission’s study found that approximately one in three federal child pornography offenders had a known history of engaging in illegal sexual misconduct prior to or in conjunction with their federal child pornography offenses. Such illegal behavior ranged from sexual assaults against children to “non-contact” sex offenses such as soliciting self-produced sexual images from minors in on- line communication. The Commission’s recidivism study also concluded that approximately 7 percent engaged in illegal sexual misconduct after serving their sentences for federal child pornography offenses. Both figures should be considered conservative because such offenses are underreported....
Judge Saris stated, “The Commission will continue to study child pornography sentencing practices, and looks forward to working with Congress on developing a sentencing scheme that serves to better distinguish offenders, thereby reducing unwarranted sentencing disparities in these serious crimes.”
I expect a lot more posts on this topic will following the days ahead. And in addition to digging into the substance of this report, I also will be keeping on eye on how federal officials in other branches and the media respond to what the USSC has to say.
February 27, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack
Thursday, February 21, 2013
US Sentencing Commission website back in action with full Booker report and FY 2012 sentencing data
I am very pleased to have discovered tonight that the US Sentencing Commission, just less than a month after Anonymous hacked into its website (basic here), now has its website up and running again. And not only is the USSC website back, but it is now better than ever with these two new big sets of materials:
This report assesses the continuing impact on the federal sentencing system of the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Booker.
This report includes an extensive set of tables and charts presenting fiscal year quarterly data on cases in which the offender was sentenced during fiscal year 2012. The report also provides an analysis of sentencing trends over five years for several key sentencing practices.
Congrats to the USSC for getting its on-line house back in order. I for one truly missed the USSC website when it was gone.
Recent related posts:
- US Sentencing Commission releases (and provides on-line here only) new Booker report
- Summary of key USSC findings in its big new Booker report
- Wall Street Journal covers USSC's new Booker report (and its unusual coverage)
Sunday, February 17, 2013
If you are eager for access to all parts of the new US Sentencing Commission Booker report...
Federal practitioner Mark Allenbaugh has posted via this special page (which is part of his firm website) all the separate parts of the US Sentencing Commission's massive report on the post-Booker federal sentencing system.
Regular readers will recall that I had the honor, via this post, of being the first website to post Part A of the new USSC Booker report (and an accompanying press release) due to the technical difficulties facing the USSC website thanks to the Anonymous scoundrals. I has been hoping, now a full three weeks after the US Sentencing Commission's website was hacked up and taken down, that the USSC would have its on-line home back in working order. But, as of this writing, the USSC's main webpage is still "under construction."
Word among those in the know is that, within the next few weeks, the US Sentencing Commission will also be releasing a big new report about federal child porn sentencing. I remain hopeful that the USSC's website will be back in action by the time the CP report is ready. But I suppose only time will tell.
Recent related posts:
- US Sentencing Commission releases (and provides on-line here only) new Booker report
- Summary of key USSC findings in its big new Booker report
- Wall Street Journal covers USSC's new Booker report (and its unusual coverage)
February 17, 2013 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Booker in district courts, Booker in the Circuits, Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Friday, February 15, 2013
Wall Street Journal covers USSC's new Booker report (and its unusual coverage)The Wall Street Journal has a pair of new pieces based on the US Sentencing Commission's recently released Booker report. This main one has this provocative headline "Racial Gap in Men's Sentencing," and here are excerpts:
Prison sentences of black men were nearly 20% longer than those of white men for similar crimes in recent years, an analysis by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found. That racial gap has widened since the Supreme Court restored judicial discretion in sentencing in 2005, according to the Sentencing Commission's findings, which were submitted to Congress last month and released publicly this week.
In its report, the commission recommended that federal judges give sentencing guidelines more weight, and that appeals courts more closely scrutinize sentences that fall beyond them.
The commission, which is part of the judicial branch, was careful to avoid the implication of racism among federal judges, acknowledging that they "make sentencing decisions based on many legitimate considerations that are not or cannot be measured."
Still, the findings drew criticism from advocacy groups and researchers, who said the commission's focus on the very end of the criminal-justice process ignored possible bias at earlier stages, such as when a person is arrested and charged, or enters into a plea deal with prosecutors.
"They've only got data on this final slice of the process, but they are still missing crucial parts of the criminal-justice process," said Sonja Starr, a law professor at the University of Michigan, who has analyzed sentencing and arrest data and found no marked increase in racial disparity since 2005....
In the two years after the Booker ruling, sentences of blacks were on average 15.2% longer than the sentences of similarly situated whites, according to the Sentencing Commission report. Between December 2007 and September 2011, the most recent period covered in the report, sentences of black males were 19.5% longer than those for whites. The analysis also found that black males were 25% less likely than whites in the same period to receive a sentence below the guidelines' range.
The Sentencing Commission released a similar report in 2010. Researchers criticized its analysis for including sentences of probation, which they argued amplified the demographic differences.
In the new study, the Sentencing Commission conducted a separate analysis that excluded sentences of probation. It yielded the same pattern, but the racial disparity was less pronounced. Sentences of black males were 14.5% longer than whites, rather than nearly 20%.
Jeff Ulmer, a sociology professor at Pennsylvania State University, described the commission's latest report as an improvement but said it was "a long way from proving that [judicial discretion] has caused greater black-white federal sentencing disparity."
For reasons that will be obvious if you click through to the story, I especially enjoyed this companion piece appearing at the WSJ Law Blog under the headline "After 'Anonymous' Attack, Sentencing Body Seeks Blogger's Help."
Recent related post:
- US Sentencing Commission releases (and provides on-line here only) new Booker report
- Summary of key USSC findings in its big new Booker report
February 15, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Monday, February 04, 2013
"Colorado Capital Punishment: An Empirical Study"The title of this post is the title of this paper now up at SSRN by Justin F. Marceau, Sam Kamin and Wanda Foglia. Here is the abstract:
This article reports the conclusions of an empirical study of every murder conviction in Colorado between January 1, 1999 and December 31, 2010. Our goal was to determine: 1) What percentage of first degree murderers in Colorado were eligible for the death penalty; and 2) How often the death penalty was sought against these killers. More importantly, our broader purpose was to determine whether Colorado’s statutory aggravating factors meaningfully narrow the class of death eligible offenders as required by the Constitution.
We discovered that while the death penalty was an option in approximately ninety two percent of all first degree murders, it was sought by the prosecution initially in only three percent of those killings, pursued all the way through sentencing in only one percent of those killings, and obtained in only 0.6 percent of all cases.
These numbers compel the conclusion that Colorado’s capital sentencing system fails to satisfy the constitutional imperative of creating clear, statutory standards for distinguishing between the few who are executed and the many who commit murder. The Eighth Amendment requires that these determinations of life and death be made at the level of reasoned legislative judgment, and not on an ad hoc basis by prosecutors. The Supreme Court has emphasized that a State’s capital sentencing statute must serve the “constitutionally necessary function . . . [of] circumscrib[ing] the class of persons eligible for the death penalty” such that only the very worst killers are eligible for the law’s ultimate punishment. Colorado’s system is unconstitutional under this standard because nearly all first degree murderers are statutorily eligible to be executed.
I do not think one needs to be a sophisticated empiricist to have an inkling, based on the quality and quantity of support for the death penalty expressed in some comments, that not all readers of this blog with feel compelled to reach the same constitutional conclusion reached by these authors concerning Colorado's modern experience with capital punishment.
February 4, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Detailed sentencing data, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Friday, February 01, 2013
Summary of key USSC findings in its big new Booker report
As explained here, unfortunately, wascally on-line wabbits have so far managed to allow only the first big part of US Sentencing Commission super-sized new Booker report to be available on-line only via this SL&P link. Fortunately, because others are primarily in charge of chasing down the annoying anonymous hackers (and because the NRA is primarily in charge of making sure all the rest of us have a right to use maximum firepower when hunting other forms of wabbits), I can spend my time trying to take stock of all the incredible effort and research reflected in the part of the new USSC Booker report now available for general consumption.
Though I am still just start to scratch the massive surface of the mass of information in just the first part of the new USSC Bookerreport, I can begin some assessment of what's in there by first praising the Commission for having a handy list of bolded "key findings" summarized in the first chapter. Here, in full text, are all the bolded key findings set out in the report's Overview chapter [with my own numbers added]:
 The number of federal offenders has substantially increased, and most federal offenders have continued to receive substantial sentences of imprisonment.
 The guidelines have remained the essential starting point for all federal sentences and have continued to influence sentences significantly.
 The influence of the guidelines, as measured by the relationship between the average guideline minimum and the average sentence, has generally remained stable in drug trafficking, firearms, and immigration offenses, but has diminished in fraud and child pornography offenses.
 For most offense types, the rate of within range sentences has decreased while the rate of below range sentences (both government sponsored and non-government sponsored) has increased over time.
 The influence of the guidelines, as measured by the relationship between the average guideline minimum and the average sentence, and as measured by within range rates, has varied by circuit.
 The rates of non-government sponsored below range sentences have increased in most districts and the variation in such rates across districts for most offenses was greatest in the Gall period, indicating that sentencing outcomes increasingly depend upon the district in which the defendant is sentenced.
 For offenses in the aggregate, the average extent of the reduction for non-government sponsored below range sentences has been approximately 40 percent below the guideline minimum during all periods (amounting to average reductions of 17 to 21 months); however, the extent of the reduction has varied by offense type.
Prosecutorial practices have contributed to disparities in federal sentencing.
 Variation in the rates of non-government sponsored below range sentences among judges within the same district has increased in most districts since Booker, indicating that sentencing outcomes increasingly depend upon the judge to whom the case is assigned.
 Appellate review has not promoted uniformity in sentencing to the extent the Supreme Court anticipated in Booker.
 Demographic factors (such as race, gender, and citizenship) have been associated with sentence length at higher rates in the Gall period than in previous periods.
I do not think any of these key findings are especially surprising, though I suspect some (many?) will still prove to be somewhat controversial. Most fundamentally, I am certain that all of these findings could be "spun" in any number of ways in any number of settings. For example, I think one might reasonably wonder whether finding 8 concerning prosecutors contributing to disparties best explains finding 11 concerning increased demographic disparities. (Also, it is especially interesting to consider how one might spin findings 2 and 5 and 6 in the on-going Supreme Court litigation concerning the application of ex post facto doctrines in the post-Booker advisory guideline system.)
All these key findings should and likely will engender lots of discussion and debate in the weeks ahead. For now, though, I am eager to hear from readers about which particular finding they consider most important or least important (or, perhaps, least likely to get enough attention or most likely to get too much attention). As one who has long been concerned that federal sentencing severity and the overall growth in the total number federal defendants gets too little attention while disparity gets too much attention, I will assert that finding 1 above and the realities it reflects is really the most important big-picture take-away point. I have a feeling, though, that others may have distinct views.
Recent related post:
February 1, 2013 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Booker in district courts, Booker in the Circuits, Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Saturday, January 12, 2013
New resource on location of death sentences handed down in 2012I was intrigued to see this new information and resource on the top of the Death Penalty Information Center website:
The Death Penalty Information Center is pleased to offer a new resource page on death sentences in 2012. Seventy-seven (77) people were sentenced to death in 2012, the second lowest number of sentences since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Of those sentenced, 3 were women; 48% were black; 40% were white. Four states (FL, CA, TX, and PA) were responsible for 66% of the death sentences, and only 9 counties produced over a third of the death sentences in the country. Information is provided on the name, race, state, and county for each defendant. A downloadablle spreadsheet enables sorting by each of these categories. Click here for our Death Sentences in 2012 page.
Monday, December 24, 2012
Latest USSC data on retroactivity of crack guidelines reduced by FSA
I just noticed on the US Sentencing Commission's website this new data report on "Fair Sentencing Act Amendment Retroactivity." The report is described this way: "This report provides data concerning the retroactive application of the 2011 amendment to the federal sentencing guidelines implementing the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010."
Based on the information reflected in Table 8 of this data report and elsewhere, it appears that nearly 6600 defendants received, on average, a 29-month reduction in their crack sentences thanks to the new FSA crack guidelines being made retroactive. That adds up to nearly 16,000 cumulative years of federal imprisonment eliminated and an economic saving to federal taxpayers of approximately a half-billion dollars (based on a conservative estimate of a taxpayer cost of roughly $30,000 per prisoner for each year of federal incarceration).
Notably, according to Table 5 of this data report, more than 85% of those benefiting from reduced crack sentences are black prisons. The historically racialized reality of federal crack prosecutions is thus again on display as one reviews this data.
Here is to hoping, especially during the holiday season, that all the persons who benefited from the new reduced FSA crack sentences will turn their lives around. If these defendants who received reduced sentences find ways to become productive (and tax-paying) citizens, the benefits to society will profoundly transcend the saved incarceration costs.
December 24, 2012 in Detailed sentencing data, Drug Offense Sentencing, Implementing retroactively new USSC crack guidelines, New crack statute and the FSA's impact, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
DPIC reports slight uptick in number of death sentences imposed in 2012The Death Penalty Information Center released its year-end report on death penalty developments today, and the full eight-page report is available at this link. This press release from DPIC about the report echoes its theme of the death penalty in decline by making these points at the outset:
Only nine states carried out executions this year, equaling the fewest number of states to do so in 20 years, according to a new report released today by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). More than half of the states (29) either have no death penalty or have not carried out an execution in five years. The number of executions in 2012 (43) was 56 percent less than the peak in 1999 and equal to last year’s total.
The number of new death sentences in 2012 was the second lowest since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Seventy-eight people were sentenced to death in 2012, representing a 75 percent decline since 1996 when there were 315 sentences.
Many death penalty states with histories of high use had no new death sentences or no executions in 2012. North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia (which is second to Texas in total executions since 1976) had no death sentences and no executions. No executions were carried out in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, or Missouri.
“Capital punishment is becoming marginalized and meaningless in most of the country,” said Richard Dieter, DPIC’s Executive Director and the author of the report. “In 2012, fewer states have the death penalty, fewer carried out executions, and death sentences and executions were clustered in a small number of states. It is very likely that more states will take up the question of death penalty repeal in the years ahead.”
Especially as compared to death penalty's modern heyday in the United States (which roughly corresponds to the half-decade following the oklahoma City bombing and President Bill Clinton's second term in office), this basic narrative of the capital punishment in decline is accurate. But as my post headline and the graphic above notes, the very latest developments suggest a flattening out of the declining trend.
Despite the controversy over the Troy Davis execution and the initiative repeal effort in California this year, there was still apparently a slight uptick in the total number of death sentences imposed throughout the United States. And, as the data from DPIC here reveal, the 43 executions in 2012 is right around the average number of yearly executions throughout the United States over the past half-decade. Thus, assuming recent capital past is prologue, we can and should reasonably predict on average six or seven death sentences and three or four executions every month in the United States for the foreseeable future.
On a related front, I wonder if anyone has any good data on the number of LWOP sentences imposed in 2012 or before. I have long worried that a small reduction in death sentences imposed within a jurisdiction might sometimes result in disproportionately large increase in the number of LWOP sentences in that jurisdiction. I do not have rigorous data to back up my concerns here, and I would be grateful for any information anyone may have about relationships between death sentencing trends and imprisonment trends in 2012 or before.
Monday, December 17, 2012
BJS releases official accounting of "Prisoners in 2011" in the United StatesAs reported in this official press release, the US Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics this morning released its official accounting of the total population of prisons as of the end of 2011. Here are a few data highlights via the press release:
Twenty-six state departments of corrections reported decreases in their prison population during 2011, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported today. California reported the largest decline (down 15,493), while New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Florida, and Texas each had population decreases of more than 1,000 prisoners in 2011.
Among states that had increases in their prison populations, Tennessee and Kentucky both added more than 1,000 inmates in 2011. During 2011, the total U.S. prison population declined for the second consecutive year, to under 1.6 million inmates or 15,023 fewer inmates than in 2010. This represents a 0.9 percent decrease in the total prison population.
The overall decline in 2011 was due to the decrease in state prisoners, down 21,614 prisoners or 1.5 percent from 2010. The reduction in California’s prison population under the Public Safety Realignment policy accounted for 72 percent of the total decrease in state prisoners. The federal prison population offset the decline in the states with an increase of 6,591 prisoners (up 3.1 percent) from 2010 to 2011.
As in 2010, prison releases in 2011 (688,384) exceeded prison admissions (668,800). Admissions to federal prisons increased 12 percent (up 6,513 inmates) in 2011 while state prison admissions decreased 6.4 percent (down 41,511 inmates) from 2010. The number of admissions to state prisons (608,166) fell to its lowest level since 2001. Sixty-three percent (26,340 admissions) of the decrease in state prison admissions between 2010 and 2011 was due to fewer parole violators being reincarcerated.
In 2011 the U.S. imprisonment rate dropped to 492 inmates per 100,000 residents, continuing a decline since 2007, when the imprisonment rates peaked at 506 inmates per 100,000 residents. The national imprisonment rate for males (932 per 100,000 male U.S. residents) was over 14 times the imprisonment rate for females (65 per 100,000 female U.S. residents)....
In 2010 (the most recent data available) 53 percent of sentenced state prisoners were serving time for a violent offense, 18 percent for property offenses, 17 percent for drug crimes and 10 percent for public order offenses, such as weapons, drunk driving, commercialized vice and court offenses.
An estimated 188,200 sentenced state prisoners (14 percent) were serving time for murder or manslaughter in 2010, while 160,800 offenders were incarcerated for rape and other sexual assaults. Between 2000 and 2010, the estimated number of state prisoners sentenced for any violent offense increased by 99,400 inmates, or 16 percent (from 625,600 prisoners in 2000 to 725,000 in 2010).
Inmates sentenced for drug offenses comprised 48 percent (94,600 inmates) of the sentenced federal prison population in 2011, while 7.6 percent of federal prisoners were held for violent offenses. An estimated 11 percent (22,100 inmates) were serving time in federal prison for immigration offenses.
Because imprisonment, especially at the margins, always seems to me to be a very expensive way to try to reduce crime, I am pleased to see that the prison population in the US went down a bit in 2011. But, significantly, it seems most of the national prison population decrease can be attributed to the Plata litigation and subsequent realignment in California. Absent significant prison population reductions in other states in 2012, it is possible that the national prison population in the land of the free could tick back up soon (thanks, in large part, to the seemingly ever-growing federal prison population).
The full 34-page BJS report "Prisoners in 2011," which has lots and lots of interesting data, is available at this link. Among other interesting information, this new report reveals that, as of the end of 2011, the five largest prison systems in population terms are, in order, the feds, Texas, California, Florida and Georgia.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Latest BJS data report 2011 decline in US prison and overall correction populationsAccording the latest, greatest official numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the total population subject to criminal justice control in the US declined (again) in 2011. This press release from BJS sets out the basics:
About 6.98 million people were under some form of adult correctional supervision in the U.S. at yearend 2011, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. This was the equivalent of about one in 34 U.S. adults (or about 2.9 percent of the adult population) in prison or jail or on probation or parole, the lowest rate of adults under correctional supervision observed since 2000.
The adult correctional population declined by 1.4 percent or 98,900 offenders during 2011. This was the third consecutive year of decline in the number of offenders under the supervision of adult correctional authorities....
At yearend 2011, about 4,814,200 offenders were supervised in the community on probation or parole, and 2,239,800 were incarcerated in state or federal prisons or local jails. About one in 50 adults was under community supervision while about one in 107 adults was in prison or jail.
While both the community supervision population (down 1.5 percent) and the incarcerated population (down 1.3 percent) decreased during 2011, the majority of the decline (83 percent) in the total number of adults under correctional supervision during the year was due to a drop in the probation population. The probation population declined two percent or by 81,800 offenders during 2011, falling below four million for the first time since 2002.
For the third consecutive year, the number of offenders discharged from probation supervision (about 2.2 million offenders) exceeded the number who entered probation (about 2.1 million) during 2011, contributing to the decrease in the probation population....
An increase in the parole population partially offset declines in all other components of the adult correctional population. The parole population increased 1.6 percent or by 13,300 offenders during 2011. The state parole population increased 1.1 percent and the federal parole population grew 5.1 percent during the year....
The failure rate of parolees (defined as the percentage of parolees who were returned to jail or prison out of all parolees who could have been incarcerated at any point during the year) decreased for the fifth consecutive year. During 2011, about 12 percent of parolees at risk of reincarceration were incarcerated at some time during the year, down from about 15 percent during 2006.
All these data and so much more can be found in these two official new reports from BJS: Correctional Populations in the United States, 2011; and Probation and Parole in the United States, 2011
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
"The Micro and Macro Causes of Prison Growth"The title of this post is the title of this very interesting paper on prison growth now on SSRN and authored by the always astute John Pfaff. Here is the abstract:
This paper explores both "who" has driven up US prison populations in recent years and "why" this growth has occurred. At least since the early 1990s, the "who" appears to primarily be prosecutors. Crime and arrests have fallen, and the percent of felony cases resulting in admissions and time served once admitted have been flat. But the probability that an arrest results in a felony charge has gone up significantly. (Limitations in data prevent us from examining the role of filing decisions before 1994.)
As for the "why," this paper provides some evidence that, at least since the crime drop began, increases in prison spending appear to track increases in state budgets fairly closely, suggesting that increased fiscal capacity is an important causal factor. It also looks at the politics-of-crime theories and explains that all previous efforts are unsatisfactory because they have focused on state and federal actors. Prosecutors, who are driving prison growth, are county officials, and it is unclear that state- and national-level political theories explain more-local outcomes.
Sunday, November 04, 2012
"Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice Process: Prosecutors, Judges, and the Effects of United States v. Booker"The title of this post is the title of this notable new empirical paper by Professors Sonja Starr and M. Marit Rehavi now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Current empirical estimates of racial and other unwarranted disparities in sentencing suffer from two pervasive flaws. The first is a focus on the sentencing stage in isolation. Studies control for the “presumptive sentence” or closely related measures that are themselves the product of discretionary charging, plea-bargaining, and fact-finding processes. Any disparities in these earlier processes are built into the control variable, which leads to misleading sentencing-disparity estimates. The second problem is specific to studies of sentencing reforms: they use loose methods of causal inference that do not disentangle the effects of reform from surrounding events and trends.
This Article explains these problems and presents an analysis that corrects them and reaches very different results from the existing literature. We address the first problem by using a dataset that traces cases from arrest to sentencing and by examining disparities across all post-arrest stages. We find that most of the otherwise-unexplained racial disparities in sentencing can be explained by prosecutors’ choices to bring mandatory minimum charges. We address the problem of disentangling trends using a rigorous method called regression discontinuity design. We apply it to assess the effects of the loosening of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines in United States v. Booker. Contrary to prominent recent studies, we find that Booker did not increase disparity, and may have reduced it.
November 4, 2012 in Booker in district courts, Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Friday, November 02, 2012
Record-high government-sponsored departure rate in latest quarter of post-Booker data
Late yesterday, I got this e-mail alert via the US Sentencing Commission:
The United States Sentencing Commission's Preliminary Quarterly Data Report for the third quarter of fiscal year 2012 is now available on the Commission's website [at this link]. The report includes an extensive set of tables and charts presenting fiscal year quarterly data on cases in which the offender was sentenced during the first three quarters of fiscal year 2012. The report also provides an analysis of sentencing trends over five years for several key sentencing practices.
Only late today did I finally get a chance to look through these new numbers and the only big story within is what I highlighted via the title of this post coming from Table 4 of this big quarterly data report: during the third quarter of FY 2012 (which runs from April 1 to June 30), the rate of government-sponsored departures hit a record high of 28.7%. For some statistical context, the average rate of government-sponsored departures post-Gall has generally been under 26% (although the last six quarters all show rates above that modern historical average).
Interestingly, though the rate of non-government-sponsored below-guideline sentences has actaully declined each of the last three quarter, the rate of within-guideline sentencing hit a modern record low of 53.1% in the third quarter of FY 2012 because of the record-high rate of government-sponsored departures during this period.
The first sensible explanation I can devise for this latest data is that they reflect the impact of the Justice Department's decision way back in January (reported here and here) to authorize so-called "fast-track" departures in all districts, not just in a select few pre-authorized fast-track districts. I suspect that this decision may have led not only to an uptick in government-sponsored fast-track departures, but perhaps also some other types of "government-sponsored" departures in plea agreements for those who might not quite fit the standard fast-track criteria.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
A review of the year that was 2011 in federal sentencingThe US Sentencing Commission has this week released this basic report "Overview of Federal Criminal Cases, Fiscal Year 2011." Though there is no new remarkable data in this report, this overview provides an effective reminder of what the (still growing) massive federal sentencing system is all about. Here is part of the start of the report:
The United States Sentencing Commission received information on 86,361 federal criminal cases in which the offender was sentenced in fiscal year 2011. Among these cases, 86,201 involved an individual offender and 160 involved a corporation or “organizational” offender....
The vast majority of the cases reported to the Commission involve an individual defendant. Over the last decade, the number of these cases has increased every year except one. In fiscal year 2011, the increase was 2.7 percent over the number of such cases in fiscal year 2010. Cases involving immigration, drugs, fraud, or firearms continue to be the most common federal criminal cases and make up the vast majority of federal felonies and Class A misdemeanors. These four crime types have been the most common for the last decade. In fiscal year 2011, these crimes accounted for 83.0 percent of all cases reported to the Commission.
Immigration cases continued to be the fastest growing segment of cases in the federal system. In fiscal year 2011, there were 29,717 immigration cases reported to the Commission, an increase of 1,213 cases from the prior fiscal year. In the last ten fiscal years, the number of cases of this type has increased by 153.2 percent, while the total federal caseload has grown by 33.9 percent....
The number of drug cases has been relatively stable over the last five fiscal years, but because of the overall increase in federal cases, the portion of the criminal caseload attributable to those cases decreased to 29.1 percent in fiscal year 2011.... Firearms cases were 9.2 percent of the caseload in fiscal year 2011, a decrease of 2.4 percentage points from five years ago. The proportion of fraud cases over that period also was relatively stable at 9.8 percent in fiscal year 2011, but has declined slightly from 10.7 percent in fiscal year 2007....
The vast majority of convicted defendants plead guilty. In fiscal year 2011, more than 96 percent of all offenders did so, a rate that has been largely the same for ten years. When offenders pled guilty, 44.0 percent received a sentence below the applicable sentencing guideline range, either at the request of the government, at their own request, or initiated by the court. Approximately 61 percent (61.5%) of these below range sentences were requested by the government, usually because the defendant had provided substantial assistance to the government or had agreed to have his or her case handled as part of an early disposition program.
A little simple division brings a little more perspective to these number: with more than 86,000 federal sentencings of individuals in FY2011, the system averaged over 1,650 sentencings per week and thus more than 330 federal sentencing per federal work-day. Put even more starkly, in the 15 minutes it took me to put together this post, on average 10 more persons were sentenced by the federal district judges.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
"Estimating Gender Disparities in Federal Criminal Cases"The title of this post is the title of this great-looking new paper by Sonja Starr, which is now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
I have long found that, in both the classroom and in other settings, discussion of discretion and disparity in the criminal justice treatment of different genders can often foster more dynamic and less polarizing discusson than when the focus is on race. For this reason (and many others), I hope to soon find time to consume this important new article and may well comment on it further.
This paper assesses gender disparities in federal criminal cases. It finds large gender gaps favoring women throughout the sentence length distribution (averaging over 60%), conditional on arrest offense, criminal history, and other pre-charge observables. Female arrestees are also significantly likelier to avoid charges and convictions entirely, and twice as likely to avoid incarceration if convicted.
Prior studies have reported much smaller sentence gaps because they have ignored the role of charging, plea-bargaining, and sentencing fact-finding in producing sentences. Most studies control for endogenous severity measures that result from these earlier discretionary processes and use samples that have been winnowed by them. I avoid these problems by using a linked dataset tracing cases from arrest through sentencing. Using decomposition methods, I show that most sentence disparity arises from decisions at the earlier stages, and use the rich data to investigate causal theories for these gender gaps.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
New USSC report provides data on federal sentencing realities
The US Sentencing Commission recently published this interesting and effective little document titled simply "Overview of Federal Criminal Cases, Fiscal Year 2010." Here are one of many passages that should interest federal sentencing data junkies:
Until fiscal year 2009, drug offenses had been the most common federal crime during the 20 years for which the Commission has released sentencing data. In fiscal year 2010, 25,043 offenders were convicted of a drug crime, the majority involving the manufacture, sale, or transportation of a drug. Of these, 1,025 offenders were convicted of an offense involving simple possession of a drug.
Offenses involving cocaine, in either powder form or base (crack) form, were the most common drug crimes, accounting for 43.6 percent of the offenders sentenced under the Chapter Two drug guidelines. These cases were almost evenly split between offenses involving crack cocaine (20.1%) and offenses involving powder cocaine (23.5%).
Marijuana cases were the next most common, representing 26.0 percent of all drug crimes. In fact, marijuana cases were more prevalent than either crack cocaine or powder cocaine cases. Drug offenses involving methamphetamine represented 17.7 percent of all drug crimes. Heroin cases were the least common of the major drug offenses, accounting for 6.7 percent of all drug crimes.
Monday, July 16, 2012
Exciting new data and resources from US Sentencing Commission
Via e-mail, I have today received this exciting news concerning new materials and data available from the US Sentencing Commission via its website:
The United States Sentencing Commission today introduces its new Interactive Sourcebook. The Interactive Sourcebook allows users to re-create and customize the tables and figures presented in the Commission's printed Sourcebooks of Federal Sentencing Statistics, and contains additional viewing options and tables not published in the printed Sourcebooks. Please view the Interactive Sourcebook Features Guide to learn how to use the site. For more information, view the Frequently Asked Questions.
The United States Sentencing Commission's Preliminary Quarterly Data Report for the second quarter of fiscal year 2012 is now available on the Commission's website. The report includes an extensive set of tables and charts presenting fiscal year quarterly data on cases in which the offender was sentenced during the first half of fiscal year 2012. The report also provides an analysis of sentencing trends over five years for several key sentencing practices.
Friday, July 06, 2012
Federal sentencing data junkies rejoice: USSC creates new "Research and Statistics Page"
A helpful reader reminded me that I had not yet spotlighted with the justified fanfare and blog firework that the US Sentencing Commission has just rolled out this awesome new page on its website, which is excitingly titled the "Research and Statistics Page." Here is how the USSC explains the new website offering: "This page contains content from the Commission's former Research and Data and Statistics pages. It also features new content, including the Commission's annual individual offender datafiles and prison and sentencing impact assessments."
Helpfully, the reader who made sure I posting these USSC developments, also sent me this terrific and insightful account of why the "prison and sentencing impact assessments" (which appear on this new special webpage) merit significant attention:
The Commission finally is publishing prison impact assessments. While it only has the assessments for this amendment cycle, hopefully it will publish retroactively (and should be encouraged to do so).
Such data are very useful, if for nothing else than to get some idea of the real-world effects amendments to the FSGs have. If data show very little impact, then not a lot of fuss should be given to them (and frankly, we should wonder why such amendments even would be necessary). In contrast, those amendments with a projected significant impact should be more thoroughly vetted/reviewed/criticized, and the actual prison effects should be followed (most especially where there is a net impact on prisons, i.e., more beds needed). And, of course, when a politically unpopular amendment is under consideration, if it also lowers the number of beds to be utilizied, then the cost-savings can make an otherwise bitter pill easier to swallow.
BTW, from what I understand, the model used to do these assessments goes all the way back to the late 80s and hasn’t been update since (nor an empirical assessment of how well the model predicts the impact). So, with such data available now, this additional area of study is available.
I agree completely with these sentiments, and I will add that another exciting aspect of the USSC's new data page is an icon which indicates that the Commission is developing an "Interactive Sourcebook." I am hopeful and cautiously optimistic that such a resource can and will make it much easier for both academics and practitioners to get quick and helpful federal sentencing data on an array of intricate subtopics.
Kudos to everyone at the USSC for getting this new data page up and running and also (in advance) to any and everyone else who helps me identify the latest and greatest data to mine from the page.
UPDATE: A different helpful reader has told me that the penultimate sentence in the quoted e-mail above contains misinformation and that the USSC's prison impact model is, in fact, regularly updated. Troublesomely, I cannot effectively assess who has the story right about this "insider" debate over the USSC data. But I can say that even questionable data is better than no data, so I just care that the USSC has made this data available no matter its precision.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Latest death row data on shows spike in percentage of condemned Latinos
Via this DPIC posting, I see that the NAACP Legal Defense Fund now has some notable updated data on condemned inmates via its Death Row USA publication available here. The DPIC posting summarizes highlights of this data in this way:
The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's Death Row USA shows a decrease of 19 inmates between January 1 and April 1, 2012. Over the last decade, the total population of state and federal death rows has decreased significantly, from 3,682 inmates in 2000 to 3,170 inmates as of April 2012. California continues to have the largest death row population (724), followed by Florida (407), Texas (308), Pennsylvania (204), and Alabama (200). Neither California nor Pennsylvania have carried out an execution in the past six years.
The report includes information on the race of death row inmates. Although the overall population of death row has decreased since 2000, the percentage of Latino inmates facing execution has been steadily increasing. In 1991, Latinos made up 6% of the nation's death row. In 2012, Latinos or Latinas comprised 12.4% of death row inmates. In jurisdictions having 10 or more inmates on death row, the states with the highest percent of Latino/Latina death row inmates are Nebraska (45%), Texas (29%) and California (23%). The report also contains statistics on executions and an overview of recent legal developments related to capital punishment.