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Federal Probation Journal - September 2017

The September issue of Federal Probation features a special section looking at “30 Years with Federal Sentencing Guidelines.”

This Issue in Brief

Federal Sentencing Policy: Role of the Judicial Conference of the United States and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts

Ricardo S. Martinez

While the Sentencing Commission has been the primary agency charged with establishing sentencing policies and practices for the federal courts over the past 30 years, the Judicial Conference of the United States (the national policy-making body for the federal courts) and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) have also played important roles in developing and implementing sentencing policy. The author, the current chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Criminal Law, describes the role of both these entities during this era of sentencing guidelines.

The Integral Role of Federal Probation Officers in the Guidelines System

William H. Pryor Jr.

The author, who is acting chair of the United States Sentencing Commission, discusses the integral role that probation officers have played in the federal guidelines system. He highlights their role in helping create the initial guidelines as well as in implementing the guidelines since 1987, including the process of frequently amending them over the years.

Reflecting on Parole’s Abolition in the Federal Sentencing System

Douglas A. Berman

The author suggests how the Sentencing Reform Act’s complete elimination of parole may have, at least indirectly, exacerbated some of the most problematic aspects of modern federal sentencing. He then highlights a few notable recent federal sentencing developments that have functioned as a kind of “parole light,” and closes by suggesting that advocates for federal sentencing reform consider recreating a modest, modern form of parole as an efficient and effective means of improving the federal sentencing system.

Five Questions for the Next Thirty Years of Federal Sentencing

Steven L. Chanenson

The author poses five questions in the context of one of the federal system’s state predecessors, the Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines, in hopes that the answers may offer possible opportunities for federal improvement over the next thirty years.

State Sentencing Guidelines: A Garden Full of Variety

Kelly Lyn Mitchell

Over forty years ago, sentencing in the U.S. was primarily “indeterminate,” with judges pronouncing long sentence terms consisting of minimum and maximum times to serve, and parole boards exercising their discretion in reviewing individual cases for release from prison. Since 1980, multiple states, the federal government, and the District of Columbia have enacted sentencing guidelines. The author describes some of the major features of sentencing guidelines in the states and relates them, where possible, to the federal sentencing guidelines.

Removal of the Non-scored Items from the Post-Conviction Risk Assessment Instrument: An Evaluation of Data-driven Risk Assessment Research within the Federal System

Thomas H. Cohen, Kristin Bechtel

In 2009, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts developed a dynamic risk assessment instrument, the Post Conviction Risk Assessment (PCRA), consisting of 15 scored items and 15 non-scored items that prior research had suggested should predict recidivism but that, at the time of the instrument’s development, were unavailable for analytical purposes in the case management system. The authors examined whether these 15 non-scored items improve the PCRA’s predictive accuracy or whether these non-scored items warrant removal from the instrument.

The Presumption for Detention Statute’s Relationship to Release Rates

Amaryllis Austin

Since 1984, the federal pretrial detention rate has been increasing. The presumption for detention statute, which assumes that defendants charged with certain offenses should be detained, has been identified as one potential factor contributing to the rising detention rate. The author examines the relationship between the presence of the presumption and release rates and the effect, if any, of the presumption on the release recommendations made by pretrial services officers, and compares outcomes for presumption and non-presumption cases.

Download the issue.