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October 1, 2007

The challenge of collecting sentencing data

The Cleveland Plain Dealer today has this very interesting article that highlights the challenges that surrounding the collection of sentencing data at the state level.  The article is entitled "Ohio law on tracking race of felons is ignored," and here is how it begins:

A dozen years ago, judicial leaders troubled that Ohio's courtrooms were getting an unwanted reputation for treating blacks more harshly than whites for similar crimes turned to state lawmakers for help.  The result was a law urging the Ohio Supreme Court to force lower-court judges to track the race, ethnicity, gender and religion of everyone before their bench convicted of a felony to test whether the perceptions were rooted in reality.

Yet today, not a single digit of the data has been collected. And despite two reports since then from state study groups urging implementation of the law, the matter hasn't seriously been considered in at least five years.  Meanwhile, that perception problem — it's just as bad, some jurists say.

Though focused on race issues in particular, the article does an effective job reviewing the array of issues that arise in the effort to collect lots of dynamic sentencing data effectively.

October 1, 2007 at 10:46 AM | Permalink


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Well I hope they look at a lot more than just the criteria listed. Most sentencing I am involved in comes down to prior record. So if somebody from race A gets 6 years for a burglary and somebody from race B only gets two years, is that because of race or because person A had 5 prior convictions and person B didn't? Or is it becasue one burglary was more professional or more serious? Or is it becasue person A could afford a better attorney? Or was it because person A was opposed by a lazy DA who will plea bargain away anything to avoid a trial?
I have seen all of these many times.
- Northern California probation officer-

Posted by: Jeff | Oct 1, 2007 11:20:33 AM

We have an independent judiciary and if they are not interested in doing it LOL. Our Clerk of Court would say should give me the money to hire the extra staff and then I will think about it.

I heard a presentation by a judge last week on all of the stuff they have to take into consideration in deciding the sentence. In order to reduce the chance of sentencing error he had created a very detailed spread sheet and check lists so the clerk would record the sentence correctly. He said that it was not uncommon that the CA and defense attorney would bring him a plea bargain and he would look at his spread sheet and tell them they had to do it over because they had left something out or misinterpreted the sentencing policy.

What I found in Iowa is there are large variations from county to county in prison sentencing rates for Blacks and American Indians some of these counties are in the same judicial district so the judges are a common factor and I wonder if the recommendations about probation from the CA office are an important factor.

Posted by: JSN | Oct 1, 2007 4:20:58 PM

I can't speak as to others, but for me the answer to your question is yes. Several years ago, I tracked my stats for two years.
Judges followed my recommendation in general about 90% of the time (viz., if I say prison or probation, they get it, although the actual custody time might vary). About 75% of the time it was exactly the same.

Posted by: Jeff | Oct 2, 2007 11:12:14 AM

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