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August 11, 2006

Seeking surveys of sentencing attitudes

As detailed here, the National Center for State Court (NCSC) will soon be publishing the results of two intriguing surveys about attitudes concerning sentencing reform.  One survey posed a series of pointed questions to state chief justices and court administrators; the other posed a series of general questions to members of the public.  At the great new blog Corrections Sentencing, Mike Connelly's has this post on sentencing commissions that draws on the results of the "insiders" survey, and this post discussing the results of the "outsider" survey.

Steve Chanenson and I are organizing a forthcoming issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter around these surveys and what should be taken away from them (especially during an election season).  And we thought it might be useful to compare the recent NCSC surveys with major prior works on insider and outsider perceptions and attitudes about sentencing and modern reforms. 

The US Sentencing Commission has completed some interesting survey work about the federal sentencing system.  For example, this report discusses the results of a 2002 survey of Article III judges, and this report discusses the results of a 1994 national sample survey of public opinions on sentences for federal crimes.  But I am sure there have been other surveys of attitudes about sentencing trends (or sentencing in particular jurisdictions) that I have not seen or have forgotten.

So, here's a Friday bleg: can folks through comments to this post (or via e-mail here) let me know about any sound and/or interesting surveys of attitudes concerning sentencing and modern reforms?  Thanks.

August 11, 2006 at 12:51 PM | Permalink


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I wonder if the solution isn't to make sentencing commissions pure research organs, rather than to give them more power.

We already had sentencing guidelines. They are contained in the statutes making conduct criminal. Well, they're generally more than guidelines, but that isn't always the case. For example, Colorado allows certain judicial deviations from the statutory sentences for certain classes of felonies, for example, in extreme situations.

Guidelines also don't address problems like mandatory minimums.

Why have two parallel systems of sentencing law?

Armed with good data about who is in prison or jail, how long, and under what circumstances, legislators can propose changes in legal sentence for crimes themselves.

The truth of the matter is that a very subset of all criminal statutes account for the vast majority of cases and also set the tone. This is particularly true in federal practice. Why require the exhaustive regulatory process to its thing, when aside from data, a legislative aide can draft a statute in a week that addresses 90% of the problem.

The notion that experts on commissions are less partisan has not panned out.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Aug 11, 2006 6:00:17 PM

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