Magazine article Corrections Forum

Effects of Judges' Sentencing Decisions on Criminal Careers

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Effects of Judges' Sentencing Decisions on Criminal Careers

Article excerpt

Issues and Findings

This NIJ study sought to determine the degree to which judicial sentencing decisions affect subsequent criminal careers. It examined the criminal careers of 962 felony offenders in Essex County, New Jersey, sentenced in 1976 and 1977 variously to confinement and noncustodial programs. The 18 participating judges exercised considerable discretion in making sentencing decisions. The data collected included judicial perceptions, the judges' predictions of the offenders' future criminal behavior, the judges' sentencing purposes, offender backgrounds, execution of sentences, and offenders' arrests and charges during the 20 years after sentencing. Also measured were the judges' selection of different sanctions, the validity of subjective and objective predictions of future criminal behavior (risks), and the offenders' time in the community (free of the incapacitating effects of jail or prison).

Key issues.

Rigorous tests of sentencing policy changes are rare because serious obstacles impede assessments of the crime control effects of such policies. The results of controlled experiments involving dif ferent punishments of equivalent groups of offenders cannot be compared because such studies, rarely believed to be feasible, are not done.

Other obstacles to sentencing research include: judges' reluctance to provide detailed records of their reasons for choosing particular sentences; fixed or mandatory sentencing laws that limit sentencing alternatives available to judges; and the demands of careful, tong- term followup analysis of sentencing effects on offenders' subsequent criminal careers. …

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