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Sentencing and Conventional Number Preferences: A Research Note

NCJ Number
Justice Research and Policy Volume: 8 Issue: 1 Dated: Spring 2006 Pages: 67-98
Andrew Wiseman; Daniel Fischer; Michael Connelly
Date Published
32 pages
This study examined Wisconsin judges' use of conventional number preferences when handing down sentences for non-probation felonies.
Prior research on sentencing has shown that judges rely heavily on "conventional number preferences" (CNPs), often defaulting to certain "preferred" sentences, e.g., 3 years, 4 years, 5 years, etc., that come easily to mind. Data from Wisconsin confirm that its judges, virtually unbound in their discretion, are likewise heavily influenced by CNPs, with 10 prominent sentences explaining almost all non-probation felony sentences. Wisconsin currently spends nearly $2,300 per prisoner, per month. Strong preferences for 3-, 4-, and 5-year sentences, when shorter terms would suffice, cost the State millions of dollars each year. Additionally, CNPs may result in disproportionate sentences for offenders who commit the same crime. References (Published Abstract)