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A Statewide Mixed-methods Evaluation of Pennsylvania’s 8th Edition Sentencing Guidelines and their Impacts on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Sentencing Outcomes

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Awarded, but not yet accepted
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $730,834)

The purpose of the proposed project is to conduct a five-year mixed-method formative/process and outcome evaluation of Pennsylvania’s 8th edition sentencing guidelines. The project’s goals include: (1) summarize the change process preceding the implementation of Pennsylvania’s 8th edition sentencing guidelines; (2) assess the impacts of Pennsylvania’s 8th edition guidelines on sentencing outcomes and racial/ethnic disparities; (3) determine stakeholders’ perceptions of Pennsylvania’s 8th edition sentencing guidelines and change processes; and (4) disseminate applicable knowledge from the project’s findings such that other jurisdictions may reduce racial and ethnic disparities through sentencing policy. This project is designed to increase fairness in sentencing in and beyond Pennsylvania, which will improve the legitimacy of sentencing systems and promote individuals’ civil rights and racial equity.

       Project activities will include data collection and analysis from three general sources: (1) secondary documentation of the guidelines revision process (e.g., reports, legislation, recorded presentations, meetings, and hearings), which will be summarized; (2) statewide administrative sentencing data (i.e., all cases sentenced in Pennsylvania under the 7th and 8th edition guidelines [2012-2028], n = ~1,250,000 cases), which will be analyzed quantitatively using descriptive, bivariate, and multivariate methods; and (3) 25-30 semi-structured interviews with the stakeholders involved in the revision process (e.g., academics, scholars from historically black colleges and universities, legislators, judges, prosecutors, attorneys, court administrators), which will be analyzed qualitatively using an inductive coding process following grounded theory.

      Expected outcomes include five planned written deliverables: three scholarly and two practitioner focused. The scholarly manuscripts include a formative/process evaluation, an outcome evaluation, and a more focused/thorough analysis of the impacts of the 8th edition guidelines on racial and ethnic disparities in sentencing. The practitioner deliverables will consist of one report summarizing the changes and change processes associated with the 8th edition guidelines, and one implementation guide for other jurisdictions seeking to develop and implement new sentencing policy and reduce disparities. These deliverables will be disseminated through national and international webinars and conferences, and through the policymaker/practitioner/researcher networks established by Drexel University, Pennsylvania State University, and the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing.

      The intended beneficiaries of the project are the populations who have historically endured disparately harsh sentencing (e.g., Black, non-Latinx and Latinx), through the project’s promotion of fairer and more transparent sentencing. Scholars, practitioners, policymakers, and key court and sentencing stakeholders who seek to improve fairness in sentencing will also benefit from the guidance set forth in the project’s deliverables. CA/NCF

Date Created: September 26, 2023