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Effects of Judges' Sentencing Decisions on Criminal Careers, Research in Brief

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 1999
12 pages
Publication Series
This study determined the degree to which judicial sentencing decisions affected subsequent criminal careers for 962 felony offenders in Essex County, N.J., who were sentenced in 1976 and 1977 variously to confinement and noncustodial programs.
The 18 participating judges exercised considerable discretion in their sentencing decisions. The data collected included judicial perceptions, the judges' predictions of the offenders' future criminal behavior, the judges' sentencing purposes, offender backgrounds, execution of sentences, and offenders' arrests and charges during the 20 years after sentencing. Also measured were the judges' selection of various sanctions, the validity of subjective and objective predictions of future criminal behavior (risks), and the offenders' time in the community (free of the incapacitating effects of jail or prison). The findings show that the judges' subjective risk assessments of offenders' likelihood of recidivism, although only modestly valid, had a substantial influence on their sentencing choices. More formal, empirically derived methods provided better measures of the risk of recidivism. Available sentencing choices had little effect, other than that of incapacitation, on recidivism as measured by new arrests and charges. Whether the offender was confined or given noncustodial sanctions made no difference, nor did where the offender was confined, the length of the offender's maximum imposed sentence, the length of time the offender was confined, a "split" sentence of jail and probation, or fines or restitution. The findings thus offer little support, aside from incapacitation, for increased use of confinement, emphasis on longer terms, or more acceptance of specific deterrence as a crime-control strategy. 15 exhibits

Date Published: November 1, 1999