Sentencing Policy

Andres F. Rengifo

in Criminology

ISBN: 9780195396607
Published online December 2009 | | DOI:
Sentencing Policy

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Sentencing policies govern the administration of legal sanctions for individuals convicted of a criminal offense. As such, these policies shape a vast array of institutional processes ranging from the likelihood, nature, and duration of imprisonment, to release decisions and the conditions of post-incarceration supervision. Starting in the mid 1970s the US approach to sentencing moved away from a relatively uniform set of indeterminate state systems focused on individualized, case-specific decisions to a more fragmented set of determinate systems emphasizing structured decision making and reduced discretion for legal actors. This change also implies a greater emphasis on retributive ideologies in contrast to more traditional rehabilitation-centered approaches. This framework has been progressively developed through a number of state and federal sentencing policies—including, for example, repeat-offender statuses, sentencing enhancements and mandatory minimums, truth-in-sentencing statuses, and drug laws. In most cases these initiatives have been implemented through legislative action, although in recent years other government entities (such as sentencing commissions) have had more influence in the development of these policies. A rich tradition of socio-legal studies has explored the linkages between sentencing and the role, justification, and functions of legal punishments in society. Research has also highlighted a number of social covariates of sentencing policies—such as more conservative political ideologies and more intense partisan politics, as well as greater levels of economic resources—that have been linked to more punitive approaches and higher incarceration rates. Studies have also explored case- and jurisdiction-level disparities in sentencing outcomes and processes related to attributes of defendants (notably race and gender). An emerging body of works has begun to document the specific impact of sentencing policies on offenders and on the criminal justice system as a whole. These works are particularly relevant to understanding the context and impact of mass incarceration for prisoners, communities, and government agencies.

Article.  5928 words. 

Subjects: Criminology and Criminal Justice ; Criminal Justice ; Criminology

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