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

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

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

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

Synopsis

It is a truism that the administration of criminal justice consists of a series of discretionary decisions by police, prosecutors, judges, and other officials. Taming the System is a history of the forty-year effort to control the discretion. It examines the discretion problem from the initial "discovery" of the phenomenon by the American Bar Foundation in the 1950s through to the most recent evaluation research on reform measures. Of enormous value to scholars, reformers, and criminal justice professionals, this book approaches the discretion problem through a detailed examination of four decision points: policing, bail setting, plea bargaining, and sentencing. In a field which largely produces short-ranged "evaluation research," this study, in taking a wider approach, distinguishes between the role of administrative bodies (the police) and evaluates the longer-term trends and the successful reforms in criminal justice history.

Excerpt

The administration of criminal justice in the United States consists of a series of discretionary decisions by officials. This point is now a truism among experts on criminal justice. Much of the research, public policy debates, and reform over the past thirty years has been devoted to attempts to control that discretion. This book is a history of that effort.

The primary purpose of this book is to analyze the origins, nature, and impact of various efforts to control discretion. Four particular decision points are selected for detailed examination: police discretion, bail setting, plea bargaining, and sentencing. Many other decision points in the criminal justice system are not examined. These four decision points were selected to illustrate general phenomena related to the control of discretion.

This book is designed as an "interim report." A little more than twenty years ago, Kenneth Culp Davis wrote the first comprehensive discussion of discretion in criminal justice, subtitling it A Preliminary Inquiry. This book is a follow-up to that book. Much has happened since the publication of Davis's book. He wrote at the early stages of what can now be seen as a national movement. Many reforms have been proposed, and many have been implemented. This book is an interim report on "what works."

Much has been written on the individual subjects examined here. There are large bodies of literature on police discretion, bail, plea bargaining, and sentencing. Yet there has been no comprehensive assessment of the discretion control effort--either within those four areas or for the administration of criminal justice as a whole.

Much of the literature cited here falls within the category of "evaluation research," evaluating the impact of a particular reform or change.

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