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Research Etc...

Publication of the ALI’s “Model Penal Code: Sentencing”

The American Law Institute’s “Model Penal Code: Sentencing” reexamines the sentencing provisions of the 1962 Model Penal Code in light of the many changes in sentencing philosophy and practice that have taken place since its original publication, and provides guidance on some of the most important issues that courts, corrections systems, and policymakers are facing today.


Long Sentences

The Council on Criminal Justice, Task Force on Long Sentences, released a new report (Feb. 2023), “The Relationship Between Sentence Length, Time Served, and State Prison Population Levels.”

Example finding:  Individuals serving long sentences in states with highly determinate systems spend, on average, nearly three times as long in prison as individuals serving long sentences in states with highly indeterminate systems.

Reducing Racial Inequalities in the Criminal Justice System (Report Release Webinar)

Registration is open for a webinar on the release of a new report: Reducing Racial Inequality in Crime and Justice: Science, Practice, and Policy, by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

November 15, 2:00-3:00 p.m. ET.

Promoting Success on Community Supervision

The Crime and Justice Institute has released four new reports on Colorado, Florida, Mississippi, and Montana, with research intended to better understand the factors impacting supervision outcomes, how current policies are aligning with best-practices, and what opportunities exist to produce better results.

Degrees of Indeterminacy

The Robina Institute just published the Final Report in their Degrees of Indeterminacy project. This project offers “new conceptual tools to better understand and compare the wide range of prison-release systems across America.” Here is an excerpt (p. 103):

Certain broad patterns of prison-rate change have emerged over the last several decades. On average, during the “prison buildup” years of nationwide prison-rate growth to the pinnacle of “mass incarceration” (1972-2007), states that adopted non-paroling systems experienced less per capita prison growth than paroling jurisdictions. This was especially true of non-paroling states that had adopted judicial sentencing guidelines. In contrast, paroling states on average had the highest increments of per capita prison growth nationwide. At the end of the buildup period, the states with the highest standing prison rates were nearly all paroling jurisdictions. This was true even among sentencing guidelines states. Among guidelines jurisdictions, those that retained parole-release discretion saw considerably higher prison growth than in non-paroling guidelines systems.

Juvenile Records and Guideline Scoring 

This study of the Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines considers the role of juvenile adjudications in determining prior record, the impact on guideline placement and, consequently, recommended sentencing outcomes. Findings include that Black defendants are much more likely to have juvenile adjudications affect their sentence than are White defendants. Pennsylvania is currently in the process of revising its guidelines and may choose to consider alternative structures for incorporating juvenile adjudications in prior record.

Consecutive Sentences

This research examines patterns of consecutive sentencing using data on individuals sentenced in Pennsylvania from 2015 to 2019 from the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, focusing on (a) the relative frequency of different forms of stacked sentences, (b) the consequences of these sentences for punishment severity and length, and (c) the circumstances in which they are most likely to be applied.

Supervision Status and Cumulative Disadvantage

This 2020 study of Michigan data (2003-2006) examines whether specific elements of prior record—current supervision status of probation or parole—have an additional informal impact on new commitments to prison beyond their formal role in sentencing guidelines, and how these potential sources

of cumulative disadvantage contribute to racial inequality in imprisonment. The study finds that the informal impact of parole on the probability of receiving a new prison sentence is an important source of cumulative disadvantage, while the informal impact of probation status is small and inconsistent across the cells of the sentencing guidelines.

Honoring the Life and Work of Edward J. Latessa

Dr. Latessa, a special friend of the NASC, passed away on January 11, 2022. He had a multifaceted influence on the field of criminal justice over a remarkable career that spanned more than four decades. He was instrumental in building the School of Criminal Justice and a nationally recognized doctoral program at the University of Cincinnati, contributed defining scholarly research, and did more to shape correctional policy and practice than perhaps anyone else. The foundation of his impact, however, was his unique personality and his commitment to improving the lives of others. See this special issue of Victims & Offenders, published in September, now with free access.

An Assessment of Probation Sentencing Reform in Louisiana and Georgia

Louisiana and Georgia took different approaches to reforming probation sentencing through policy, but some conclusions can be generalized from the two states based on this analysis, e.g., sentence lengths among the overall probation populations have decreased in both states postreform. Georgia has experienced greater challenges applying its changes to probation sentencing policy, which rely heavily on judicial discretion.

Michigan’s Sentencing Guidelines and Prison Terms for Life-Maximum Offenses

This is an extraordinary study of 30 years of sentencing data and policy in Michigan, which concludes:  “When the Michigan Felony Sentencing Project issued its report in 1979, it identified three primary concerns about sentencing in Michigan: disparity unrelated to offense severity or to the defendant’s criminal history, lack of accountability, and the diffusion of authority over the actual sentence to be served among prosecutors, judges, and parole boards. Unfortunately, despite the development of three sets of sentencing guidelines and the temporary existence of two sentencing commissions, the same concerns remain.”

Meta-analysis of Incarceration’s Effect on Recidivism

Based on a much larger meta-analysis of 116 studies, the current analysis shows that custodial sanctions have no effect on reoffending or slightly increase it when compared with the effects of noncustodial sanctions such as probation. This finding is robust regardless of variations in methodological rigor, types of sanctions examined, and sociodemographic characteristics of samples. All sophisticated assessments of the research have independently reached the same conclusion. The null effect of custodial compared with noncustodial sanctions is considered a “criminological fact.” Incarceration cannot be justified on the grounds it affords public safety by decreasing recidivism.

Pennsylvania’s Comprehensive Sentencing Guidelines Review

This summary provides a brief history of the development of sentencing guidelines in Pennsylvania, the critical events that determined the trajectory of the guidelines, the efforts underway since 2014 as part of this second comprehensive review of the sentencing guidelines, and information on the most recent phase of that review: a summary of the work and recommendations of the Academic Review Panel.

Factors that Drive Probation Violations and Revocations

Ten jurisdictions have released their action research reports that identify the local practices and factors that lead to probation being revoked and how revocation can be prevented, with the goal of informing specific policy and practice interventions. The ten sites are:

Making Sense of Sentencing Data

The entire April 2021 issue of Federal Sentencing Reporter will be of interest to sentencing commissions, with articles such as:

Harnessing the Power of Data: The Role of Sentencing Commissions in the Information Age;

Good Data, Good Law; and

The Relationship of Judicial and Prosecutorial Elections to the Availability of Sentencing Data in the United States.

California Sentencing Reforms and Race

This is an analysis of the effects of California sentencing reforms on the arrest, booking, and incarceration rates experienced by California residents from different racial and ethnic groups. There were sizable declines in the overall incarceration rate for African Americans, with the largest declines observed for African American males. The one quarter decline in total correctional populations in the state coincided with sizable narrowing in interracial differences in incarceration rates.

Deferred Adjudication Improves Outcomes

This study finds that defendants without a prior felony conviction who participated in the Texas deferred adjudication program experienced an immediate and dramatic reduction in subsequent offending. The total number of future convictions fell by 75% over a 10-year follow-up period, compared to similarly situated defendants who did not receive diversion. The results also suggest large improvements in labor market outcomes, including a 50% increase in formal employment rates.

Reducing Racial Disparity in Sentencing

This recent article by Kelly Mitchell, Chair of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission, examines racial disparities in sentencing as the cumulative result of multiple types of discretion exercised at the state, court, and individual levels through policies, practices, and individual acts.

Sentencing and COVID

In “Sentencing, Interrupted,” Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing experts provide a data-focused view of how the disruption associated with COVID-19 affected sentencing and resentencing patterns in the Commonwealth.

Earned Compliance Credit

This is an excellent 2017 report on earned compliance credit: a correctional practice that incentivizes probationers or parolees to adhere to the rules of their supervision by reducing the length of their terms, in order to reduce probation caseloads and allow supervising agents to focus on the highest risk individuals under supervision. It was developed by the Minnesota Department of Corrections pursuant to a legislative mandate, with strong support from Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission Chair and NASC member Kelly Mitchell.

Courts and Data

Two judges in Ohio ask “How does a court system lack basic statistics in this technological day and age? The answer varies by state, but typically, antiquated IT infrastructure in state courts, no uniform requirements on compiling numbers, and a lack of coordination across jurisdictions precludes gathering meaningful numbers and demographics. And, in many corners, institutional interests are aligned to resist transparency out of a fear of what might show up.”  How a Spreadsheet Could Change the Criminal-Justice System, The Atlantic, Dec. 12, 2020.

Prosecutorial Performance Indicators (PPIs)

The Safety and Justice Challenge (supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation) has produced an implementation manual for PPIs to measure inputs, outputs, activities, and impacts of prosecutorial offices. They include timeliness of decision making, case prioritization, diversity of prosecutors, violent recidivism, participation in community events, frequency of contact with victims, diversion success rates, racial disparities in plea offers, accuracy in charging, and conviction integrity reviews, among others.

Research on Expunction

Harvard Law Review has published a comprehensive statewide study of expungement recipients and comparable nonrecipients in Michigan. Findings include: among those legally eligible for expungement, just 6.5% obtain it within five years of eligibility, labelled an “uptake gap”; those who do obtain expungement have extremely low subsequent crime rates, comparing favorably to the general population; and, those who obtain expungement experience a sharp upturn in their wage and employment trajectories.



Sentencing Research on Judicial Age and Gender

Research published in September 2020 finds that young female judges punished high harm crimes substantially more than their male and older female colleagues. Age alone had no impact on sentencing; neither did gender. The study used sentencing data from sixteen years of criminal trials in Colorado, consisting of almost 3,000 individual sentences.

Justice Counts

The Council of State Governments Justice Center has launched “Justice Counts,” a national coalition of leading criminal justice organizations that combines the collection, analysis, and reporting of criminal justice data to meet the needs of policymakers at a time when up-to-date, accessible data is more crucial than ever. NASC member Bennet Wright of Alabama is a member of the steering committee.

Massachusetts Racial Disparity Report

This remarkably thorough and well-written report from Massachusetts may be a useful template for racial disparity analysis across decision points in the criminal justice system. Briefly it concludes, “In addition to being overrepresented relative to their share of the state population, Black and Latinx people are less likely than White people to have their cases resolved through less severe dispositions such as pretrial probation or continuances without finding."

The Role of Substance Abuse in Probation Outcomes

The Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission recently published a study of The Role of Substance Abuse in Probation Outcomes. NASC Executive Committee member Matt Kleiman is a co-author.​​

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