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.