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May 22, 2008

New study indicates success of state guideline systems

This AP story reports on a new study providing empirical praise for states moving to guideline sentencing systems (even voluntary ones).  Here are snippets from the AP report:

State sentencing guidelines virtually erase discrimination in criminal punishments, regardless of how much judges are allowed to deviate from recommended prison terms, according to a study released Thursday. 

The National Center for State Courts examined significantly different guidelines in three states: Virginia, where the guidelines are voluntary; Michigan, which offers some judicial discretion and Minnesota, which has the most mandatory system of the three.  The study concluded that the guidelines in each of those states result in consistent sentences that generally are not influenced by race and economic status.

Wiping out racial discrimination was the major goal of a sentencing guidelines movement that began in the 1970s. "These findings stand in marked contrast to the inconsistent and discriminatory sentencing practices documented in all three states prior to the implementation of guidelines," the researchers wrote. 

The study was released at a National Governors Association retreat on sentencing and prison issues in Jacksonville, Fla. At least 20 states and the District of Columbia use guidelines that consider the nature of the offense and the defendant's criminal history. Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia were studied because their guidelines allow varying degrees of judicial discretion.

"No matter what form the guidelines took, they seemed to eliminate any measurable discrimination," Michigan State University political science professor Charles W. Ostrom, one of the report's four authors, said in a telephone interview. He said that finding was particularly surprising in Virginia. "The voluntary nature of the Virginia guidelines do not preclude it from having real positive effects," Ostrom said. "We thought it would not compare favorably to Michigan and Minnesota."...

The study by the nonprofit, Williamsburg, Va.-based NCSC was funded by the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. The report was financed by the Pew Charitable Trust's Center on the States.

I cannot seem to find a copy of this report on the web anywhere, but I will post this important new research as soon as I can get my hands on it.

UPDATE:  A helpful reader sent me this link to the NCSC report, which is titled "Assessing Consistency and Fairness in Sentencing: A Comparative Study in Three States."  I see lots of interest in this document, which I hope to blog more about in the near future.

May 22, 2008 at 09:43 AM | Permalink


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It says it's just the executive summary, but it sure looks like more than that to me.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 22, 2008 10:26:14 AM

The Virginia guideline system has more teeth than suggested in the article. The Virigina legislature uses guideline conformance rates in determining whether to reappoint judges. Thus the guidelines have a very strong effect on the bench.

Posted by: | May 22, 2008 12:08:01 PM

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