Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Should a Judge Consider the Cost of a Sentence?"

The title of this post is the headline of this effective new piece at ABC News discussing Missouri's fascinating new sentencing tool providing "case-by-case invoices" of punishment costs to judges at the time they make sentencing decisions (details here).  Here are excerpts from the ABC News piece:

When judges in Missouri prepare to sentence an offender, they have a new tool unavailable to other judges across the country: an invoice detailing the cost to taxpayers of different sentencing options.

The information is part of an offense summary culled from statistics kept by the state's Bureau of Corrections that is tailored to the offender and also details the risk that he might re-offend....

The program was unveiled last month by the Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission (MOSAC) as a tool to help judges determine the best chances for reducing recidivism with cost-effective punishments.

A judge or lawyer is able to enter specific information on the MOSAC website, such as an offender's prior criminal history, the crime committed, his education and employment status. The computer then uses statistics from other actual sentences to process the information.

For instance, a judge might plug in data regarding a 20-year-old offender with a high school diploma who was convicted of second-degree robbery and had no prior felonies. The online tool then would generate a report with a recommendation for probation with enhanced supervision that would cost $8,960 for a five-year period. If the offender were to receive such a sentence, his risk of committing a new offense within two years would be 29.7 percent.

However, the report also would contain information for the judge to consider if he believed there was a unique characteristic of the particular crime that would suggest a harsher sentence. That recommendation would be five years in prison for a cost of $54,724. The rate of recidivism for that sentence jumps to 39.6 percent. Missouri Supreme Court Judge Michael Wolff, chairman of the state's sentencing commission, said the new tool considers cost, but focuses on recidivism....

Judge Wolff asked, "Why not ask the question of how much this is going to cost?" But there are critics of the program.

Jennifer Joyce, the prosecuting attorney in the city of St. Louis, said, "It's ultimately cheaper to prosecute no one."  She isn't opposed to the information being available for judges and taxpayers, or to the concept of alternative sentencing, but she is concerned that sentencing decisions will be made on an economic basis.

 "Strictly speaking, economics is irrelevant to the decision that the judge makes, which is about public safety," she said. "If we are going to use economics as a basis to making these decisions, then we have to consider the economics of the victim and the community."

Judge Gary Oxenhandler, who sits on the 13th Judicial Circuit and has used the new tool, disagreed with her conclusion. He said cost is only one of many factors a judge should consider, including the threats to the community and the impact on the victim. "I want as much information as I can get," he said.

"Any place a judge can obtain information, that is an important source.  The prosecution has its goals, the defense has its goals.  Our job is to come up with the right amalgam that is going to best serve all these interests between protection of the public and punishment for the offender."

Helpfully, everyone can see an example of the data reports on recidivism and costs on the last two pages of the latest Smart Sentencing bulletin from the Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission. I encourage everyone to check out the specifics of what Missouri is doing for its sentencing judges and to think about whether and how sentencing judges (and litigants) in all systems ought be get the benefits of all this helpful data.

Related post:

September 16, 2010 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Racial Disparity in the Wake of the Booker/Fanfan Decision: An Alternative Analysis to the USSC’s 2010 Report"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper from a set of criminologists that is now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

The U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) released a report in March 2010 concluding that racial disparity in federal sentencing has increased in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in U.S. v. Booker (2005) and U.S. v. Gall (2007).  In light of this USSC report, we provide an alternative set of analyses which we believe provides a more complete and informative picture of racial, ethnic, and gender disparity in federal sentencing outcomes. We first attempt to replicate the USSC’s models.  Then we present alternative models of sentencing outcomes across three time periods spanning FY 2000 to 2009.

We find that post-Booker/Gall race/ethnic/gender disparity in sentence length is generally comparable to pre-2003 levels.  Our findings mainly diverge from the USSC’s because of: 1) the USSC’s decision to include non-incarceration cases in the sentence length analysis (as sentence lengths of 0), since more racial disparity appears to be manifest in the incarceration decision than in sentence lengths, and 2) the inclusion of immigration offenses in the USSC’s analyses, since comparatively greater disparity affecting black males is observed among immigration offenses.  We also extend the USSC report by: 1) presenting analyses that compare post-Booker sentence length disparity with disparity before the 1996 U.S. v. Koon decision, and 2) presenting an analysis of disparity in departures/deviations from the Guidelines.

September 14, 2010 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Booker in district courts, Detailed sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Thursday, August 19, 2010

New US Sentencing Commission report on changes to criminal history computation

The US Sentencing Commission has this new reportup on its website that will likely not get much old or new media attention, but should be of great interest to hard-core federal sentencing nerds like me.  First, here is how the USSC describes the report on its home-page:

Computation of Recency Criminal History Points under USSG §4A1.1(e): This document provides certain information considered by the Commission as part of its determination to amend the guidelines to eliminate the consideration of "recency" points provided in USSG §4A1.1(e).  That amendment, amendment number 5, currently is pending before Congress as part of the package of amendments submitted to Congress on April 29, 2010.  The amendment has a specified effective date of November 1, 2010.

Now here is part of the summary at the end of this report which spotlights why this is a big deal for those who are involved day-to-day with federal sentencing law and practice:

In fiscal year 2009, the applicability of the recency provision was considered in 38,850 cases, all of which necessarily involve defendants in Criminal History Category II or higher.  The provision ultimately was applied in 14,548 of these cases (37.4% of 38,850).  In two-thirds of the cases receiving recency points, the offender received two additional points for USSG §4A1.1(d) (status) (9,921 of 14,548, 68.2%).  Of the 14,548 offenders receiving any recency points, these points had an impact on the offender’s calculated criminal history category in only 4,419 cases (30.4% of 14,548 recency applications).

This review also examined the utility of this subsection in predicting recidivism.  While the Commission does not have recidivism data on non-citizens, with respect to United States citizens, Commission research demonstrates that including recency in the criminal history calculation has minimal predictive power.  Based on the analysis of Commission recidivism data on United States citizens, the inclusion of recency points improves the prediction that a recidivist has a higher criminal history score (compared with a non-recidivist) in just ten of 3,018 comparisons for which the remaining subsections of USSG §4A1.1 alone did not correctly predict the higher.

The prison impact analysis revealed that if recency points were not available in fiscal year 2009, 4,189 of the 14,048 offenders receiving recency points would have moved to the next lower criminal history category, resulting in a reduction in their average sentence from 49 months to 41 months (a 16.3% average decrease).  After five years, eliminating recency points is estimated to save 1,391 prison beds.

In other words, this report reveals that a seemingly minor "tweak" concerning the calculation of criminal history points under the sentencing guidelines could and would impact nearly as many federal sentencing cases as any of the the (much-higher-profile) recent changes to crack sentencing rules. 

In turn, this report also suggests that if (and when?) this criminal history "tweak" officially becomes law this November, lots and lots of current federal prisoners should be very eager for the US Sentencing Commission to give this change retroactive application.  If the USSC makes this change retroactive, it is possible that a sizable number of current federal prisoners would have an opportunity to request and receive reduced sentence.

August 19, 2010 in Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

BJS reporting state prison population down almost 3,000 in 2009, while fed population rose over 6,800

As detailed in this official press release from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2009 "the number of prisoners under jurisdiction of state correctional authorities decreased by 2,941 inmates (down 0.2 percent)." This is big news because it represents "the first decline in the state prison population since 1972." But the total prison population in incarceration nation still grew because in 2009 the "federal prison population increased by 6,838 (or 3.4%) which accounted for all of the increase in the U.S. prison population." Here are more details from the BJS press release:
Twenty-four states experienced decreases in their prison populations and 26 had increases. Six states reported declines of more than 1,000 prisoners: Michigan (down 3,260), California (down 2,395), New York (down 1,660), Mississippi (down 1,272), Texas (down 1,257), and Maryland (down 1,069). States reporting the largest increases included: Pennsylvania (up 2,214), Florida (up 1,527), Louisiana (up 1,399), Alabama (up 1,282) and Arizona (up 1,038)....

By yearend 2009, the U.S. prison population (state and federal prisoners combined) reached 1,613,656, increasing by 0.2% during the year. The increase of 3,897 prisoners was the smallest annual increase during the current decade.

As of June 30, 2009, state and federal prisons and local jails had custody over 2,297,400 inmates, a decrease of 0.5 percent since yearend 2008. This decrease resulted from the 2.3 percent decline of inmates held in local jails, which hold over a third of the custodial population each year.

Midyear 2009 incarceration rates for inmates held in custody in prisons or jails differed by race and gender. Black males, with an incarceration rate of 4,749 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents, were incarcerated at a rate more than six times higher than white males (708 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents) and 2.6 times higher than Hispanic males (1,822 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents). Black females (with an incarceration rate of 333 per 100,000) were more than two times as likely as Hispanic females (142 per 100,000) and over 3.6 times more likely than white females (91 per 100,000) to have been in prison or jail on June 30, 2009.

I am not surprised that jurisdictions that generally have to balance their budgets saw a decline in incarceration in 2009, while the one jurisdiction that just prints money went in the other direction.  One more reason to root for local control on most crime and punishment issues.

All the details of this new data run can be found in this new BJS publication, titled "Prisoners at Yearend 2009–Advance Counts."

June 23, 2010 in Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

New district court sentencing data now available from the USSC

The US Sentencing Commission has some fresh new sentencing data now up on its website. The USSC's latest data report, which can be accessed here, is described this way:

Second Quarter FY10 Quarterly Sentencing Update:  An extensive set of tables and charts presenting fiscal year quarterly data on cases in which the offender was sentenced through the second quarter of fiscal year 2010. The report also provides an analysis of sentencing trends over five years for several key sentencing practices. (Published June 1, 2010)

The new data continue to show remarkable stability in trends in the application of the advisory federal guideline sentencing system: these data show, yet again, prosecutors and judges moving just a little further away from the guidelines, with now 55% of all federal sentences are within the calculated guidelines range, with prosecutors requesting a below-range sentence in more than 26% of all cases.   (Figures A and B and Table 4 show these long-term trends most clearly.)

Not long after the 2008 election, I speculated here that ground-level sentencing trends might show the imprint of a new administration before there were any formal legal and policy developments.  Interestingly, these latest numbers continue to suggest that the new Obama judges and new Obama US Attorneys may be, very slowly but very surely, continuing to help the federal sentencing system drift away from the anchors established in the federal guidelines.

June 1, 2010 in Booker in district courts, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Judicial Discretion and Sentencing Behavior: Did the Feeney Amendment Rein in District Judges?"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by two economists, Beth Freeborn and Monica Hartmann, which appears in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies.  Here is the abstract:

This research studies the impact of changes to judicial discretion on criminal sentencing outcomes.  The 2003 Feeney Amendment restricted federal judges' ability to impose sentences outside of the Sentencing Guidelines and required appellate courts to review downward departures.  Using data on all federal sentences between 1999 and 2004, we show that the amendment reduced downward departures by 5 percent.  Controlling for characteristics of the crime and the offender, we find that the Amendment increased average prison sentences by about two months.  There is no evidence that judges adjusted offense levels or criminal history in order to circumvent the Amendment.

May 25, 2010 in Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, April 29, 2010

"The Stability of Case Processing and Sentencing Post-Booker"

The title of this post is the title of this notable empirical paper that I just noticed via SSRN.  The piece is  authored by Jeffery Todd Ulmer and Michael Thomas Light, and here is the abstract:

In January of 2005, the U.S Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Booker and Fanfan that in order to be constitutional, the federal guidelines must be advisory rather than presumptive. The uncertainty regarding how Booker may change sentencing practices has been a major discussion among legal scholars.  The wake of Booker/Fanfan may bring decreased uniformity and consistency in sentencing between District Courts, and also increased unwarranted disparity based on the social status characteristics of defendants. This is one of the first empirical studies to examine if and how Booker has changed federal sentencing.

We first review the Booker/Fanfan decision and its importance and aftermath, and then review what is known from previous studies of disparity in federal sentencing pre-Booker/Fanfan.  Using survey data taken from judges, lawyers, and probation officers in federal courts, we examine how practices in courts may have changed post-Booker.  We then examine several of the central questions surrounding whether Booker has increased disparity using USSC data on federal sentencing outcomes from three time periods: prior to the 2003 PROTECT Act, the period governed by the PROTECT Act, and the post-Booker/Fanfan period (2006-2007).  The results from the survey data show that while some sentencing practices have changed slightly, Booker has not dramatically altered them.  And from the USSC data we find that while federal judges in general sentence more leniently post-Booker, extralegal disparity and interdistrict variation in the effects of extralegal factors on sentencing have not increased post-Booker.  Thus, allowing judges greater freedom to exercise discretion does not necessarily result in increased extralegal disparity.

April 29, 2010 in Booker in district courts, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, April 26, 2010

"Trial Penalties in Federal Sentencing: Extra-Guidelines Factors and District Variation"

The title of this post is the title of this new must-read empirical work available via SSRN and in print in Justice Quarterly. Here is the abstract:

The guarantee of the right to a jury trial lies at the heart of the principles that underlie the American criminal justice system’s commitment to due process of law. We investigate the differential sentencing of those who plead guilty and those convicted by trial in U.S. District Courts.  We first investigate how much of any federal plea/trial sentencing differences are accounted for by substantial assistance to law enforcement, acceptance of responsibility, obstruction of justice, and other Guideline departures.  Second, we investigate how such differences vary according to offense and defendant characteristics, as well as court caseloads and trial rates. We use federal sentencing data for fiscal years 2000-2002, along with aggregate data on federal district court caseload features.

We find that meaningful trial penalties exist after accounting for Guidelines-based rationales for differentially sentencing those convicted by guilty plea versus trial.  Higher district court caseload pressure is associated with greater trial penalties, while higher district trial rates are associated with lesser trial penalties.  In addition, trial penalties are lower for those with more substantial criminal histories, and black men.  Trial penalties proportionately increase, however, as Guideline minimum sentencing recommendations increase. We also supplement our analysis with interview and survey data from federal district court participants, which provide insights into the plea reward/trial penalty process, and also suggest important dimensions of federal court trial penalties that we cannot measure.

April 26, 2010 in Detailed sentencing data, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Latest new federal sentencing statistics from the US Sentencing Commission

The US Sentencing Commission has some fresh new sentencing data now up on its website. The USSC's latest data report, which can be accessed here, is described this way:

First Quarter FY10 Quarterly Sentencing Update:  An extensive set of tables and charts presenting fiscal year quarterly data on cases in which the offender was sentenced during the first quarter of fiscal year 2010.  The report also provides an analysis of sentencing trends over five years for several key sentencing practices. (Published March 17, 2009)

The new data continue to show a very slow and steady migration away from guideline ranges: these data show that now barely 55% of all federal sentences are within the calculated guidelines range; prosecutors, who now requested departures in over 26% of all cases, continue to increase be the primary driving force behind below-range sentences.  

March 21, 2010 in Booker in district courts, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Latest federal sentencing data show continuing slow migration away from guidelines

The US Sentencing Commission has some fresh new sentencing data just up on its website. The USSC's latest data report, which can be accessed here, is described this way:

Final FY09 Quarterly Sentencing Update: An extensive set of tables and charts presenting the final cumulative fiscal year quarterly data on cases sentenced in fiscal year 2009. The report also provides an analysis of sentencing trends over five years for several key sentencing practices.  (Published March 11, 2010)

The new data continue to show remarkable stability in the operation and application of the advisory federal guideline sentencing system, with a continuing slow migration away from the guidelines due to slight increases in prosecutor-initiated and judge-initiated non-guideline sentences.  Specifically, these data show that for FY09, approximately 57% of all federal sentences are within the calculated guidelines range, with prosecutors sponsoring a below-range sentence in more than 25% of all cases, and with judges ordering an above-guideline sentencing in 2% of all cases and initiation a below-guideline sentence in nearly 16% of all cases.  

Not long after the 2008 election, I speculated here that ground-level sentencing trends might show the imprint of a new administration before there were any formal legal and policy developments.  Interestingly, these latest numbers continue the trend of a very slow, but not seemingly steady, migration away from guideline ranges.  But, in general terms, these data still show only gradual evolutions, not any obvious revolutions, in federal sentencing practices and outcomes at the district court level

March 11, 2010 in Booker in district courts, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A reentry perspective on the latest official prisoner data

I received this morning a copy of this notable press release from the National Reentry Resource Center providing a reentry perspective on the latest official prison data.  Here are excerpts:

The new statistics reveal that the total prison population growth rate (.8 percent) was the slowest in eight years; however, "the numbers of state and federal prisoners reached all-time yearend highs in 2008."  BJS estimates that about 1 in every 198 U.S. residents was incarcerated in federal or state prison at the end of 2008.

Prisoners in 2008 reveals that the number of individuals released from federal and state prisons rose to 735,454 (an increase of 2 percent). The bulletin also reports that there was an 8 percent increase in the number of individuals released to the community without any conditions. These numbers underscore the need for reentry resources and technical assistance to state and local service providers.

Probation and Parole in the United States, 2008 provides useful information about the nearly 5.1 million adults under community supervision—about 1 in every 45 adults in the country. (The bulletin on prisoners indicates that although the number of parole violators admitted to state prison increased again in 2008, the rate of that increase was slower than in the previous two years.)

Both bulletins provide detailed appendixes with information about particular states, methodologies, and notes that describe how jurisdictions collect and report data.

Prisoners in 2008 (NCJ-228417), by William J. Sabol, Heather C. West, and Matthew Cooper, can be found here. Probation and Parole in the United States, 2008 (NCJ-228230), by Lauren E. Glaze and Thomas P. Bonczar, can be downloaded here.

December 9, 2009 in Detailed sentencing data, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

New federal sentencing data from the US Sentencing Commission

I am pleased to discover that the US Sentencing Commission has some fresh new sentencing data now up on its website.  Here are links to the new data runs, with descriptions from the USSC's website:

Fourth Quarter FY09 Quarterly Sentencing Update:  An extensive set of tables and charts presenting fiscal year quarterly data on cases in which the offender was sentenced through the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2009. The report also provides an analysis of sentencing trends over five years for several key sentencing practices. (Published December 2, 2009)

Data on Retroactive Application of the Crack Cocaine Amendment:  A set of tables presenting preliminary data on cases in which a motion for a reduced sentence was considered under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). These cases involve retroactive application of the crack cocaine amendment to the sentencing guidelines (Amendment 706, as amended by Amendment 711) which became effective on November 1, 2007 and which was made retroactive effective March 3, 2008. The data in this report represents those motions decided by the courts through November 10, 2009 and for which data was received, coded, and edited by the Commission as of November 17, 2009.

I hope to find the time and energy before too long to pour through this new data and report on anything special that catches my eye.  Readers are welcomed and encouraged, of course, to use the comments to the same end.

December 2, 2009 in Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Implementing retroactively new USSC crack guidelines | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Notable buzz about proportionality review in capital cases

A helpful reader passed along some helpful information about recent developments concerning proportionality review in capital cases.  Here are the basics:

A cert petition in Holmes v. Louisiana, which questions whether the operation of Louisiana’s capital punishment scheme and the State Supreme Court’s proportionality review violate the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee against arbitrariness in capital sentencing, was recently spotlighted on SCOTUSblog's Petitions to Watch List here.  Notably, Charles Ogletree & the Houston Institute for Racial Justice at Harvard Law School are counsel of record.  And they have posted this press release on the case.

Relatedly, Bidish Sarma has an interesting little piece on proportionality review that was just posted on the Cardozo Law Review's online site, which can be accessed via this blog post.

September 26, 2009 in Detailed sentencing data, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"Immigration Prosecutions at Record Levels in FY 2009"

The title of this post is the headline of this new data item from the folks at the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC). Here is how the report starts:

The latest available data from the Justice Department show that during the first nine months of FY 2009 the government reported 67,994 new immigration prosecutions. If this activity continues at the same pace, the annual total of prosecutions will be 90,659 for this fiscal year.  According to the case-by-case information analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), this estimate is up 14.1 percent over the past fiscal year when the number of prosecutions totaled 79,431.

The comparisons of the number of defendants charged with immigration-related offenses are based on case-by-case information obtained by TRAC under the Freedom of Information Act from the Executive Office for United States Attorneys.

These numbers ought to bring a smile to Lou Dobbs and others who are often calling for tougher enforcement of immigration laws.  Whether it amounts to change we can believe in is, of course, a distinct question.   

September 22, 2009 in Criminal justice in the Obama Administration, Detailed sentencing data, Offense Characteristics, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, September 21, 2009

A timely examination of data and integration amidst California's corrections craziness

Professor W. David Ball has recently put up on SSRN on this timely analysisof California's sentencing and corrections challenges, which is titled "E Pluribus Unum: Data and Operations Integration in the California Criminal Justice System."  Here is the abstract:

The Stanford Criminal Justice Center (SCJC) recently completed a series of Executive Sessions with state and local officials about integrated criminal justice in California, exploring the ways in which the hundreds of disparate criminal justice agencies across the state might share information and coordinate activity, cooperating across jurisdictional and agency lines to promote common public safety goals.  An integrated criminal justice system, one where information is readily available to agencies when they need it, has several potential advantages: it can promote more efficient use of resources by avoiding duplication of effort; provide greater transparency to policymakers, regulatory agencies, and the public; and produce the evidence necessary to illustrate ways in which existing policies can be improved.

While integration is a crucial part of the future of criminal justice, integration itself is an increasingly important issue in its own right, particularly as governments tackle complex problems that do not confine themselves to particular geographic or jurisdictional areas (e.g. environmental pollution).  As with criminal justice, tackling these problems also requires massive amounts of information and inter-agency and inter-jurisdictional coordination.  Some lessons from the integrated criminal justice context might be relevant here: the importance of agreeing on common metrics, the challenge of getting individual agencies to think about how their information and interventions might be reused, and the importance of ensuring that any proposed changes take ordinary business practices into account. Integrated criminal justice can, at a minimum, illustrate the issues that are likely to arise.

Some recent posts on related issues in California and elsewhere:

September 21, 2009 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Another notable uptick in below-guideline sentences in latest data run from USSC

The US Sentencing Commission has some notable new sentencing data now up on its website. The USSC's latest data report, which can be accessed here, is described this way:

Third Quarter FY09 Quarterly Sentencing Update: An extensive set of tables and charts presenting fiscal year quarterly data on cases in which the offender was sentenced through the third quarter of fiscal year 2009.  The report also provides an analysis of sentencing trends over five years for several key sentencing practices. (Published September 8, 2009)

The new data shows the continuation of a trend of an increase in below-guideline sentence (which I first noted in this post and which I tentatively predicted in this post right after President Obama's election).  This data run shows another (still small but seemingly significant) uptick in below-guideline sentences imposed by judges.  Specifically, in the three quarters just before President Obama's election, judges decided on their own to impose a below-guideline sentence in roughly 13.8% of all cases.  In the three quarters since then, judges decided on their own to impose a below-guideline sentence in roughly 15.8% of all cases. 

Of course, it remains the case that most below-guideline sentences still result from prosecutors requesting a below-range sentence (this happens in more than 25% of all cases).  And, as has always been the reality in the federal sentencing system both before and since Booker, one can identify a number of large inter-circuit and inter-district variations in how many sentences fall within or outside calculated guideline ranges.

The latest data might be spun in lots of different ways, and it will be especially interesting to see how the on-going internal study group inside the Justice Department characterizes and responds to these trends.

September 8, 2009 in Detailed sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Monday, July 20, 2009

Good (and surprising) news about crime rates

This new piece from the Washington Post, which is headlined "Major Cities' Plummeting Crime Rates Mystifying," provides both good news on crime rates and a new reason to wonder if anyone can assess with any confidence what makes crime rates rise and fall.  Here are excerpts:

Violent crime has plummeted in the Washington area and in major cities across the country, a trend criminologists describe as baffling and unexpected.  The District, New York and Los Angeles are on track for fewer killings this year than in any other year in at least four decades.  Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis and other cities are also seeing notable reductions in homicides.

"Experts did not see this coming at all," said Andrew Karmen, a criminologist and professor of sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.... Criminologists have different theories about why crime is down so much, although many agree that the common belief that crime is connected to the economy is false....

The District is on track to have fewer killings than in any year since 1964, when the population was about 760,000 and Vietnam War protests were just beginning.  In the years since, the city has struggled at times with civil unrest, the arrival of crack cocaine and the rise of street gangs. In 1991, the District was known as the murder capital of the United States, recording 479 that year.  This year, there have been 79....

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Washington-based Police Executive Research Forum, said the drop in homicides this year is notable, especially considering the weather.  "This does come at an important time," he said.  "We're midway through summer, and summer is when you see the most significant increase in street violence. Departments have had to be more strategic in terms of gangs and hot spots."  Wexler said that crime isn't down everywhere.  Baltimore and Dallas are among some cities experiencing a higher number of killings compared with last year.

Gary LaFree, a criminology professor at the University of Maryland, said it has taken police decades to figure out how to effectively target crime.  "In the '60s, crime was like an act of God, like a tornado or earthquake," LaFree said.  "Where policing has changed is that we've gotten the idea this is a problem we created and there are human solutions to it.  Obviously, crime is not randomly distributed.  It is connected to hot spots in cities and other areas."

LaFree and others agree that crime doesn't automatically go up when the economy is poor. Property crime is also trending down in many jurisdictions, including the District, Prince George's and Montgomery.  The FBI reported last week that bank robberies across the country fell in the first quarter of the year, with 1,498 reported, compared with 1,604 in the first quarter of 2008.  Criminologists point to the Great Depression in the 1930s as a time of relatively low crime compared with the Roaring Twenties, when the country experienced more violence.

Okay team, in an effort to generate some debate, I will throw out two not-quite-absurd hypothesis for the unexpected drop in crime being reported here:

Hypothesis #1 — More guns, less crime:  In the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling in Heller and (silly?) concerns about possible new gun control efforts under and Obama Administration, gun sales have been up a lot over the last year.  Perhaps this new encouraging crime data reveals that more people packing heat really can help reduce crime rates.

Hypothesis #2 — More hope, less crime:  The election of Barack Obama, who ran on a campaign of hope, surely embodies the cliche that anyone can grow up in America and become President.  In addition to breaking barriers with historic appointments to the positions of Supreme Court Justice, Attorney General and Solicitor General, President Obama has often preached messages of personally responsibility as well as hope.  Perhaps giving more folks good reasons to hope leads to fewer folks having bad reasons to commit crimes.

July 20, 2009 in Detailed sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A (significant?) uptick in below-guideline sentences in latest data run from USSC

The US Sentencing Commission has some notable new sentencing data now up on its website. The USSC's latest data report, which can be accessed here, is described this way:

Second Quarter FY09 Quarterly Sentencing Update:   An extensive set of tables and charts presenting fiscal year quarterly data on cases in which the offender was sentenced through the second quarter of fiscal year 2009 [which runs through March 31, 2009].  The report also provides an analysis of sentencing trends over five years for several key sentencing practices. (Published June 1, 2009)

The new data perhaps suggest a trend that I tentatively predicted in this post right after President Obama's election in which I suggested that the incoming administration might impact federal sentencing practice before we see any formal changes in policy.  Notably, though the new data run pre-dates the Obama Administration's announcement of a new attitude about crack sentencing policy and any other formal discussion of policy changes, this data run shows a (small but seemingly significant) uptick in below-guideline sentences imposed by judges.  Specifically, in the two quarters just before President Obama's election, judges decided on their own to impose a below-guideline sentence in roughly 13.8% of all cases.  In the two quarters since then, judges decided on their own to impose a below-guideline sentence in roughly 15.3% of all cases. 

Of course, it remains the case that most below-guideline sentences still result from prosecutors requesting a below-range sentence (this happens in roughly 25% of all cases). And, as has always been the reality in the federal sentencing system both before and since Booker, one can identify a number of large inter-circuit and inter-district variations in how many sentences fall within or outside calculated guideline ranges.

June 2, 2009 in Detailed sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The latest, greatest federal sentencing data from the USSC

The US Sentencing Commission has some fresh new sentencing data now up on its website. The USSC's latest data report, which can be accessed here, is described this way:

First Quarter FY09 Quarterly Sentencing Update:  An extensive set of tables and charts presenting fiscal year quarterly data on cases in which the offender was sentenced during the first quarter of fiscal year 2009.  The report also provides an analysis of sentencing trends over five years for several key sentencing practices. (Published April 15, 2009)

The new data continue to show remarkable stability in the operation and application of the advisory federal guideline sentencing system: these data show, yet again, that just under 60% of all federal sentences are within the calculated guidelines range, with prosecutors requesting a below-range sentence in nearly 25% of all cases.  

Not long after the election, I speculated here that ground-level sentencing trends might show the imprint of a new administration before there were any formal legal and policy developments.  Interestingly, these latest numbers reveal a slight uptick in the number of judge-initiated departures and a slight down-tick in the number of prosecutor-initiated departures.  But these changes seem to be too slight at this early stage to assert that the federal sentencing times are a-changing.

April 16, 2009 in Detailed sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Final FY2008 quarterly sentencing data from US Sentencing Commission

Just posted on the US Sentencing Commission's website is a finalized set of federal sentencing data for fiscal year 2008.  Here is how the USSC describes this latest data doc:

Final FY08 Quarterly Sentencing Update (Published March 24, 2009): An extensive set of tables and charts presenting the final cumulative fiscal year quarterly data on cases sentenced in fiscal year 2008. The report also provides an analysis of sentencing trends over five years for several key sentencing practices.

March 25, 2009 in Detailed sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, December 15, 2008

Early federal sentencing data presents from the US Sentencing Commission

Data junkies, rejoice!  The number-crunching elves working inside the US Sentencing Commission (which is inside the Beltway just south of the North Pole) have finished making the present that every federal sentencing nerd like me wants for the holidays: new batches of federal sentencing data.  Specifically, now to be found on the USSC's main webpage are these data-licious announcements:

December 2008 Preliminary Post-Kimbrough/Gall Data Report:  An updated set of tables presenting preliminary data on fiscal year 2008 cases sentenced on or after December 10, 2007 through September 30, 2008. This report was prepared using data received, coded, and edited by the Commission by November 3, 2008.

FY2008 4th Quarterly Sentencing Update:  An extensive set of tables and charts presenting cumulative quarterly data on cases sentenced in fiscal year 2008. The numbers are prepared using data from cases in which the defendant was sentenced by the close-of-business on September 30, 2008 and which were received, coded, and edited by the Commission by November 3, 2008.

Data on Retroactive Application of the Crack Cocaine Amendment: A set of tables presenting preliminary data on cases in which a motion for a reduced sentence was considered under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). These cases involve retroactive application of the crack cocaine amendment to the sentencing guidelines (Amendment 706, as amended by Amendment 711) which became effective on November 1, 2007 and which was made retroactive effective March 3, 2008. The report represents those cases considered by the courts through September 30, 2008 and for which data was received, coded, and edited by the Commission as of December 8, 2008.

I hope to get a chance to consume and crunch all this new data soon, but in the meantime perhaps readers can identify any particular sentencing statistics that jump out from all this new federal data.

December 15, 2008 in Detailed sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Federal sentencing through history: "Theives Treated Tenderly."

An insightful reader sent me this link to a fascinating little New York Times story published in December 1886.  The quote above is the headline from this story published 122 years ago; here is the first sentence and some later snippets from this reporting of 19th-century federal sentencing news that was fit to print:

The unusual leniency with which the case of H. Robertson Jr. was handled by Judge Benedlot in the United States Circuit Court a few days ago has brought to the attention of lawyers and others who have business with the Federal authorities the extremely light sentences imposed upon persons convicted of violating the postal laws....

It will be seen that in no case has the sentence been for a longer term than one year.  In speaking of the tenderness with which Post Office cases were handled, Gen. Foster, the Assistant United States DistrictAttorney, said that he could not consider himself to blame as he had in nearly all the cases secured convictions.  He could not regulate the sentences because that rested entirely with the Judges.

November 12, 2008 in Detailed sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Lots of new federal sentencing data from the USSC

I am so very pleased to discover that the US Sentencing Commission has a lot of new data on its website this morning.  Here is what's there as described by the USSC (with links):

After I get a chance to chew on all these data, I will comment in a separate post concerning anything that seems especially notable in the numbers.

September 17, 2008 in Detailed sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack