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Judiciary Studies Use of Online Tool in Presentence Reports

The Federal Judicial Center (FJC) will soon begin a two-year pilot study of the impact of including data from a U.S. Sentencing Commission online tool in presentence investigation reports used during the sentencing phase of criminal cases.

Called the Judiciary Sentencing Information platform (JSIN), the publicly available tool provides five years of cumulative data for people who were convicted of a similar or the same crime, have a similar criminal history, and have been convicted of an offense that falls under the same sentencing guideline. Sentencing guidelines are advisory ranges of sentences, from a minimum to a maximum, that are established by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Districts were selected from among the 94 court districts nationwide to participate in the pilot study based on criteria developed by the FJC, and then randomly assigned to either a pilot or a control group.

In districts assigned to the pilot group, probation officers append a report from the JSIN tool to the end of each presentence report, which is a compilation of information about a defendant that is developed by a probation officer prior to the sentencing hearing. It typically includes such details as a person’s criminal history, family history, education, employment record, military service, finances, and physical and mental health.

In districts assigned to the control group, probation officers refrain from including JSIN data in presentence reports during the two-year study period, although judges and litigants may still use and consider the JSIN tool as they deem appropriate.

In addition to studying sentencing outcomes, the FJC will collect information through surveys and interviews with a selection of judges, probation officers, and attorneys.

The FJC, the education and research arm of the federal Judiciary, is conducting the pilot at the direction of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the Judiciary’s policy-making body.

Courts were notified in December about whether they would be asked to participate in the pilot, which is anticipated to begin in March.

Related Topics: Federal Judicial Center, Probation and Pretrial Services, U.S. Sentencing Commission