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November 26, 2008

NYU Brennen lecture on evidence-based sentencing

I am pleased to discover that, just in time for my turkey day reading pile, Justice Michael Wolff's article in the NYU Law Review on evidence-based sentencing reform is available on-line at this link. Justice Wolff's article is titled "Evidence-Based Judicial Discretion: Promoting Public Safety Through State Sentencing Reform," and here is the abstract:

In this speech delivered for the annual Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., Lecture on State Courts and Social Justice, the Honorable Michael Wolff offers a new way of thinking about sentencing. Instead of attempting to limit judicial discretion and increase incarceration, states should aim to reduce recidivism in order to make our communities safer.  Judge Wolff uses the example of Missouri’s sentencing reforms to argue that states should adopt evidence-based sentencing, in which the effectiveness of different sentences and treatment programs are regularly evaluated.  In presentencing investigative reports, probation officers should attempt to quantify — based on historical data — the risk the offender poses to the community and the specific treatment that would be most likely to prevent reoffending. Judges, on their own, lack the resources to implement all of these recommendations; probation officers and others involved in sentencing should receive the same information — risk assessment data — and their recommendations should become more influential as they gain expertise.

November 26, 2008 at 05:46 PM | Permalink


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A problem I have with the evidence-based practices crowd is that they "rig the game" when they exalt only those sentences which reduce recidivism. Offenders that receive probation or community-based sanctions will always show a lower recidivism rate than incarcerated defendants. Their lower risk to reoffend is what convinced the Court to place them on probation initially. We have to be honest with the public-for some habitual offenders-incapacitation is a valid sentencing goal.

Posted by: mjs | Nov 27, 2008 1:37:27 PM

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