U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Assessing Consistency and Fairness in Sentencing: A Comparative Study in Three States, Grant Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2008
336 pages

This study examined the degree to which sentencing guidelines in Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia achieved the following objectives: consistency (similar cases are sentenced similarly); proportionality (more serious offenders are punished more severely); and the absence of discrimination in sentencing (age, gender, and race are insignificant factors in determining who goes to prison and for how long).


Statistical analyses found that consistency was achieved under the sentencing guidelines of all three systems. Regarding proportionality, all of the systems had difficulties. The underlying policy distinctions among various levels of offense seriousness and criminal history categories were not uniformly significant in determining recommendations for a prison sentence or the length of a recommended prison sentence. Regarding discrimination, there were statistically significant impacts for some discriminatory factors; however, the substantive effect on sentencing was minimal. The study concludes that refinement and closer monitoring of the guidelines in each State should be sufficient to improve proportionality and nondiscrimination in the implementation of sentencing guidelines. There is no need to overhaul the structure and organization of the sentencing guidelines system in any one of the three States. The three State sentencing guideline systems were selected as representative of alternative ways of configuring the control of judicial discretion in sentencing in terms of the presumptive versus voluntary nature of the guidelines as well as their basic mechanics. A statistical model was constructed in order to establish the relationship between each of two dependent variables (imprisonment/no imprisonment and length of imprisonment) and two sets of independent variables or possible explanatory factors: measures of the essential elements and mechanics of each guideline system and measures of extra-legal (extra-guideline) factors. The statistical model was used to evaluate consistency, proportionality, and nondiscrimination in the application of the guidelines and whether they were implemented as designed. Chapter figures and tables and 150 references

Date Published: May 1, 2008