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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 78503 Find in a Library
Title: Examining the Research Underlying the Sentencing Guidelines Concept in Denver, Colorado - A Partial Replication of a Reform Effort
Journal: Journal of Criminal Justice  Volume:9  Issue:1  Dated:(1981)  Pages:51-62
Author(s): J D Hewitt; B Little
Date Published: 1981
Page Count: 12
Type: Statistics
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: The empirical basis for the criminal sentencing guidelines developed for Denver was examined and found to have serious methodological weaknesses.
Abstract: The guidelines were developed from research conducted by the Criminal Justice Research Center (CJRC) of Albany, N.Y. From a random sample of past cases of criminal convictions, the variables that best predicted the sentences were extracted and used to construct a model for specifying the type and length of sentences. The CJRC study generated a random sample of 200 cases drawn from November 1975 to February 1976. Extensive missing observations across cases resulted in a reduction of cases available for multivariate analysis. Although the research project succeeded in identifying a limited number of variables that would clearly predict past sentencing decisions, the data base was inadequate in that there were too few cases and too many variables for reliable multivariate analyses and skewed distributions among many variables. The original data were reanalyzed in a more complete form by estimating the missing data through a complex regression technique to eliminate the problems posed by missing observations and the small numbers of cases. Results showed that the variables included in the sentencing guidelines were not statistically strong enough to explain the variance in the sentences imposed. In addition, the single best predictor of the 'in-out' decision, 'offender liberty status between arrest and sentencing,' was not included in the guidelines. Although exclusion of this variable was obviously appropriate, it has apparently been an important one which judges have subjectively or unconsciously used. The paper concludes that the CJRC study did not make clear that while a limited number of variables were consistent indicators of past sentencing patterns, the overall variance explained by these variables is small. Thus, the final variables included in the guidelines may have been inappropriately biased. Courts considering the use of research in developing policy changes should let such research indicate, but not dictate, their decisions. Tables, notes, eight references, and an appendix listing the variables in the Denver guidelines are provided.
Index Term(s): Colorado; Critiques; Penalty severity rating; Sentencing guidelines; Sentencing reform; Statistical analysis; Statistical bias
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