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Key Legislative Issues in Criminal Justice: The Impact of Sentencing Guidelines

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 1996
6 pages
Publication Series

This paper discusses the predominance of presumptive sentencing guidelines over voluntary guidelines, the goals of presumptive guidelines, and their impact on sentencing practices and criminal justice operations.


Evaluations of voluntary sentencing guidelines indicate they did not make sentencing more uniform. By contrast, presumptive guidelines were effective in a number of ways. They increased sentencing uniformity and proportionality; resulted in fewer racial, ethnic and gender differences in sentencing; and met State goals of reducing sentences for property offenders and increasing them for violent offenders, and the Federal goal of increasing imprisonment generally and decreasing use of probation. The effects of sentencing guidelines on criminal justice operations have been generally positive: (1) plea bargaining did not decline; (2) the increase in court workload was modest; (3) States now have a tool to control prison population levels, at least in the short term; and (4) data used to develop and monitor guidelines enable sentencing commissions to make accurate projections of the effects and costs of proposed sentencing policies. Notes

Date Published: November 1, 1996