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July 27, 2005

Proposing a distinctive response to Booker and Blakely

Oregon trial judge Michael Marcus, who is according to his website "determined to aim the sentencing process at crime reduction," has submitted this interesting testimony to the US Sentencing Commission in response to its request for public comment on guideline priorities.  Judge Marcus has written a series of provocative articles (linked here) advocating that sentencing decision-making be based on empirical data about what sorts of sanctions and programs work on different sorts of offenders. 

Judge Marcus continues to emphasize the themes of public safety and a focus on data in his interesting submission to the USSC.  Here are some passages:

I write to urge that those of us responding to Booker and Blakely seize this opportunity to revise sentencing guidelines so that they promote sentences that best serve public safety within the available range of just and available sanctions.  Virginia is unique in having made substantial strides in this direction; Oregon has begun officially to consider the mere possibility of doing so; but state and federal guidelines otherwise have nothing intentionally to do with crime reduction.  We invest the resources of public agencies and private "think tanks" across the spectrum of penal philosophy, yet exclude their accumulated data from any role in sentencing.  We need to fix that, because the result is irresponsible cruelty to victims whose crimes smarter sentencing would have prevented.  Avoiding accountability for crime reduction is also irresponsible to the taxpayers who pay for a criminal justice system that yields unacceptable recidivism while squandering correctional resources....

I am not suggesting that we must be more severe or more lenient. I submit that we must be far smarter in our approach to sentencing — we must accept the challenge that science posed by finding so much treatment ineffective.... Criminologists have learned a great deal, and can now identify program characteristics that correlate with substantial reductions in recidivism, but we generally ignore such matters in sentencing....

I submit that the highest calling of sentencing commissions is to promote sentencing laws and practices that pursue best efforts at crime reduction with at least the same vigor that they pursue adherence to a matrix of expected severity. Few have taken that route — after all, merely publishing a matrix and monitoring how well judges adhere to it is far, far less challenging than the task I propose. It is also far, far less valuable for public safety or even fiscal responsibility — recidivism is not just cruel; it is also inefficient, as recidivists repeatedly tax our resources as they victimize our citizens.

July 27, 2005 at 09:34 AM | Permalink


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Tracked on Aug 1, 2005 4:50:26 PM


Judge Michael Marcus could not have said it better. I'm tired of the talk and no action. He has hit the bulls eye with something worth while to say. I only wish those in high places would listen. That's half the battle.

Posted by: Renee Jenkins | Jul 27, 2005 2:37:02 PM

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