Critical Issues - Court Diversion Programs

From: National Institute of Justice - Research in Brief, November 1999

Effects of Judges' Sentencing Decisions on Criminal Careers

By Don M. Gottfredson

Despite the absence of adequate data on the effects of incarceration and other sanctions on convicted offenders' subsequent recidivism, sentencing trends over the past two decades have moved toward increased determinacy, greater use of mandatory sentences with longer tems, and reduced judicial discretion. A better understanding of how different felony sanctions impact the future behavior of offenders is needed to provide a basis for evaluating the efficacy of current sentencing policies.

To this end. the National Institute Of Justice sponsored research that examined the crime control effects of sentences, over a 20-vear period, on 962 felony offenders sentenced in 1976 or 1977 in Essex County, New Jersey. This Research in brief summarizes findings of the study.

Issues and Findings

Discussed in this Brief: This 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 vanously to confinement and noncus-todial 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 different punishments of equivalent groups of offenders cannot be compared because such studies, rarely believed to be feasible, are not done.

Court Diversion Programs Court Diversion Programs

Background and Mission


Question of the Month