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National Assessment of Structured Sentencing, Final Report

NCJ Number
J Austin; C Jones; J Kramer; P Renninger
Date Published
215 pages
The past decade has witnessed a considerable amount of activity in sentencing reform; most States have instituted a number of reforms to increase the certainty of sentencing decisions by adopting mandatory sentencing, more sweeping determinate sentencing, or sentencing guideline systems.
The impetus for many sentencing reforms has been to control sentencing disparity, increase truth in sentencing, and control correctional population growth. Sentencing reforms have enabled States to set overall policies on sentencing goals and to set limits on what they can invest in incarceration facilities. In summarizing the nature and results of the sentencing reform movement, the report indicates that 16 States and the Federal Government had implemented or were about to implement sentencing guideline systems as of 1994. All States had some version of mandatory minimum sentencing laws targeting habitual offenders. Most States allowed inmates to earn good-time credits to either reduce their sentence or to advance the parole eligibility date. Despite the level of criticism directed at parole, most States, including those with determinate and sentencing guideline models, retained some form of discretionary release and postrelease supervision. Virtually all sentencing guideline commissions were asked to fulfill multiple goals of punishment, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation. States with presumptive sentencing guidelines reported high compliance rates and were successful in changing historical sentencing trends. As a result of sentencing guidelines, offenders convicted of violent crimes and repeat offenders were far more likely to be imprisoned and to serve longer prison terms. Conversely, first-time offenders charged with property crimes were less likely to be imprisoned. Persons convicted of drug crimes, both possession and sale, were far more likely to be imprisoned and to serve lengthy prison terms. Sentencing guidelines reduced sentencing disparity, produced lower rates of growth in incarceration, and controlled prison crowding. Policy implications of sentencing reforms are discussed, and recommendations States should consider in developing sentencing guidelines are offered. 117 references, 21 tables, and 16 figures