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April 30, 2009

Letter to the USSC about modern sentencing data

I had the honor of signing my name to a terrific letter put together last week by a group of sentencing gurus that urged the US Sentencing Commission to go further in making its sentencing data more transparent and accessible. This letter can be downloaded below, and here is how it begins:

The undersigned scholars and researchers study the federal sentencing system from a variety of policy and philosophical perspectives.  As you well know, these are interesting times. Constitutional decisions by the Supreme Court revised the guideline system put in place by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 (the SRA).  Legislation, both enacted and proposed, has raised important questions concerning the fairness and effectiveness of federal sentencing.  The quality of our national policy debate can be improved by empirical research, just as our sentencing practices can be improved by empirical evaluation.

We call on you to fully use the powers granted by the SRA to facilitate research and evaluation. The upcoming Data and Research Conference on May 5-7 provides an opportunity for the Commission to expand its role as “clearinghouse and information center” on federal sentencing practices and to assist researchers working with the annual monitoring data file.  The conference agenda published on your website does not seem to address several concerns regarding the timing and method of release of Commission data, however, and the release of data beyond the annual monitoring, appeals, and organizations data files.  We ask that you consider these additional issues and recommendations.

Download Open_letter_to_USSC_April_20

April 30, 2009 at 08:51 AM | Permalink


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I would like to see a permit for absolute legal immunity granted to defendants when answering the questionnaire of a research interviewer about the crime activity of the prior week. The sentencing guideline effects are such a mess that data is nearly useless, except for tracking the use of sentencing guideline. No one cares because they are now discretionary.

Their purpose is to protect the public, and a valid, protected interview about victimization serves to track the effect of interest.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 30, 2009 3:22:57 PM

At least in the state of Va. the sentencing guidelines are not worth the time spent doing the calculations. My sons guidelines for his entire history were 2 years and 11 months, and the judge had the discretion to ignore those guidelines and gave him 31 years and suspended all but 8 for a non violent crime. No weapons, entering a unsecured chicken house used for storage and taking a generator valued by the court at $10.00 and $400.36 in credit card charges on his girlfriends credit card which has been paid back. He owed child support and had been approved for a substance abuse program and the judge denied and gave him 31 years. DOC tells us it is important to stay in touch with our loved ones, but they sent him 9 hours from home. This had been a nightmare. He had 3 children, and when he was 5 hours away I would try to make the trip about every 3 months, but 9 hours away makes it almost impossible.

Posted by: Rebecca wolff | Aug 29, 2009 12:33:11 PM

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