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July 6, 2012

Federal sentencing data junkies rejoice: USSC creates new "Research and Statistics Page"

DC fireworksA helpful reader reminded me that I had not yet spotlighted with the justified fanfare and blog firework that the US Sentencing Commission has just rolled out this awesome new page on its website, which is excitingly titled the "Research and Statistics Page."  Here is how the USSC explains the new website offering: "This page contains content from the Commission's former Research and Data and Statistics pages. It also features new content, including the Commission's annual individual offender datafiles and prison and sentencing impact assessments."

Helpfully, the reader who made sure I posting these USSC developments, also sent me this terrific and insightful account of why the "prison and sentencing impact assessments" (which appear on this new special webpage) merit significant attention:

The Commission finally is publishing prison impact assessments.  While it only has the assessments for this amendment cycle, hopefully it will publish retroactively (and should be encouraged to do so).

Such data are very useful, if for nothing else than to get some idea of the real-world effects amendments to the FSGs have.  If data show very little impact, then not a lot of fuss should be given to them (and frankly, we should wonder why such amendments even would be necessary).  In contrast, those amendments with a projected significant impact should be more thoroughly vetted/reviewed/criticized, and the actual prison effects should be followed (most especially where there is a net impact on prisons, i.e., more beds needed).  And, of course, when a politically unpopular amendment is under consideration, if it also lowers the number of beds to be utilizied, then the cost-savings can make an otherwise bitter pill easier to swallow.

BTW, from what I understand, the model used to do these assessments goes all the way back to the late 80s and hasn’t been update since (nor an empirical assessment of how well the model predicts the impact).  So, with such data available now, this additional area of study is available.

I agree completely with these sentiments, and I will add that another exciting aspect of the USSC's new data page is an icon which indicates that the Commission is developing an "Interactive Sourcebook."  I am hopeful and cautiously optimistic that such a resource can and will make it much easier for both academics and practitioners to get quick and helpful federal sentencing data on an array of intricate subtopics.

Kudos to everyone at the USSC for getting this new data page up and running and also (in advance) to any and everyone else who helps me identify the latest and greatest data to mine from the page.

UPDATE:  A different helpful reader has told me that the penultimate sentence in the quoted e-mail above contains misinformation and that the USSC's prison impact model is, in fact, regularly updated. Troublesomely, I cannot effectively assess who has the story right about this "insider" debate over the USSC data. But I can say that even questionable data is better than no data, so I just care that the USSC has made this data available no matter its precision.

July 6, 2012 at 05:54 AM | Permalink


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You cannot do research on a work of fiction. It is like counting the number of chain rattlings at a seance. Over 90% of the sentences are based on a plea deal, making the adjudicated crime a fictitious one. If you want to research about fictitious data, enjoy yourself. If you want to research crime, one must look elsewhere. Where? I do not know because the lawyer profession covers up its biggest crime statistic. There are 20 million FBI Index felonies a year, and 2 million prosecutions. That means a 90% chance of never being inconvenienced after committing a serious crime in this country.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 6, 2012 6:09:04 AM

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