Taming the System: The Control of Discretion in Criminal Justice, 1950-1990

By Samuel Walker | Go to book overview

5
Sentencing Reform

The Politics of Sentencing Reform

In a remarkable burst of reform, criminal sentencing in the United States underwent sweeping changes between the mid-1970s and 1990. Nearly every state and the federal government revised its sentencing laws during the period. Although some of the changes were minor, several were radical departures from past practice. As one commentator observed, at the beginning of this period it was possible to talk about an American system of criminal sentencing; by 1990 there were several different approaches to sentencing. 1

Reform was accompanied by a searching philosophical debate over the purpose of criminal sentencing. 2 This debate reexamined first principles to a degree that had not occurred since the creation of the modern penitentiary two hundred years ago. 3


Sentencing Discretion and the Indeterminate Sentence

As was the case with other areas of the criminal process, discontent with sentencing focused on discretion. 4 It was inevitable, then, that sentencing reform would be radical in the sense of challenging first principles. The status of discretion in sentencing was completely different from discretion in every other part of the criminal process. In policing, plea bargaining, and elsewhere, discretion was the great unmentionable, a subject that officials refused to acknowledge. The first

-112-

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Taming the System: The Control of Discretion in Criminal Justice, 1950-1990
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • 1 - Discretion and Its Discontents 3
  • 2 - Police Discretion 21
  • Conclusions 52
  • 3 - The Two Bail Reform Movements 54
  • Conclusions 79
  • 4 - The Plea-Bargaining Problem 81
  • Conclusions 108
  • 5 - Sentencing Reform 112
  • Conclusions 141
  • 6 - A System Tamed? an Interim Report on the Control of Discretion 145
  • Conclusion 156
  • Notes 157
  • Index 185
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