"Fixed" sentencing: The effects on imprisonment rates over time

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Title: "Fixed" sentencing: The effects on imprisonment rates over time
Author: Leymon, Mark Gregory Hannon, 1979-
Abstract: Beginning in the 1970s, states adopted sentencing reforms as a response to a growing number of concerns in the criminal justice system. These reforms included sentencing guidelines, statutory presumptive sentencing, determinate sentencing, truth in sentencing, and three strikes laws. Each reform has become an important part of the judicial system. These "fixed" reforms shifted sentencing from the indeterminate-rehabilitation sentencing model to a more predetermined-deterrence model. The reforms' main purpose is to limit judicial discretion by insuring convicted felons receive a reasonably standard sentence depending on the crime they committed. Few studies have attempted to systematically answer the question of whether these reforms produced the outcomes stated by their supporters. This analysis utilizes a social chain theory, which suggests the socio-political context of the law and order movement interacted with structural-procedural changes in the justice system that led to unintended consequences. The study assesses the effects of sentencing reforms on shifts in year-to-year changes in general incarceration rates, changes in the racial/ethnic composition of imprisonment, and changes in the gender composition of imprisonment. It also assesses the social, political, and demographic characteristics of states that change the rate of adoption of sentencing reforms across all 50 states from the years 1965 to 2008 on the aggregate state level. This study finds, counter to most previous findings, that sentencing reforms are associated with higher rates of imprisonment. The results further suggest mechanisms are at work that unintentionally "target" historically disadvantaged groups, perpetuating inequalities within the criminal justice system instead of easing them. This result is counter to some of the policies' stated goals. Conversely, the results suggest that drug arrest rates and not sentencing reforms are associated with the narrowing gender gap in imprisonment. Finally, the results indicate that state-level characteristics are important in predicting which states will adopt sentencing reforms. From a policy perspective, rapid changes in the composition of imprisonment can be a logistical and financial burden, and these results shed light onto the specific mechanisms causing a portion of the change. This dissertation includes previously unpublished co-authored material.
Description: xvii, 232 p. : ill. A print copy of this thesis is available through the UO Libraries. Search the library catalog for the location and call number.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1794/10906
Date: 2010-06

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