Sentencing Resource Guide

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

Center for Sentencing Initiatives

State Sentencing Guidelines at

Because sentencing is a critical component of  the criminal justice process, it is continually changing to improve the justice system’s response to convicted criminals.  Reforms often address broader goals of sentencing, such as the role of judges and the punishment options, but issues likewise include disparity in sentencing, judicial discretion, and the impact of sentencing policies on facilities and personnel resources. This topic includes information on sentencing commissions, sentencing guidelines, and sentencing reform.

Links to related online resources are listed below. Non-digitized publications may be borrowed from the NCSC Library; call numbers are provided.

Featured Links

  • Leitenberger, David S. Richland County Model Reentry Court. (2005). Future Trends in State Courts.
    For the last five years, Richland County, Ohio, has operated one of the first, and largest, model reentry courts, which provides for court oversight of offenders as they proceed through the criminal-justice system.


Collateral Consequences

Federal Court Cases

  • Blakely v. Washington. Legal Information Institute, Cornell University.  This case concerns a man who kidnapped his estranged wife and received a 90-month sentence after the judge determined that the man's crime was committed with excessive cruelty.  The facts of the case warranted that the man receive a maximum sentence of 53 months.  The issue in question for the Supreme Court case is that the facts of the case that caused the judge to give the man a 90-month sentence were not found by a jury nor were they petitioned in court and therefore violated the defendant's Sixth Amendment right.
  • California Supreme Court Decision: People Vs. Black. This thirty-one page 2005 decision from the California Supreme Court addresses the impact of Blakely and Booker on California's sentencing laws.
  • Liptak, Adam. Sentencing Decision`s Reach Is Far and Wide. (2004). The New York Times This article illustrates the impact of Blakely v. Washington on court cases across the country.  This article restates the main issue of Blakely: "...any factor that increases a criminal sentence, except for prior convictions, to be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt."
  • Skove, Anne. Blakely v. Washington: Implications for State Courts. (2004). Knowledge and Information Services. Impact on and reactions in the states to Blakely v. Washington.

Mandatory Minimums

  • Pamela M. Casey. Reducing Recidivism with Evidence-Based Sentencing. (2010). National Center for State Courts, Future Trends in State Courts 2010. State court dockets are filled with offenders who have been through the system before and are likely to return.  Incorporating evidence-based practices into the sentencing process offers the promise of reducing recidivism while protecting public safety and controlling corrections costs.
  • Spohn, Cassia C. Thirty Years of Sentencing Reform: The Quest for a Racially Neutral Sentencing Process. (2000). Policies, Processes, and Decisions of the Criminal Justice System 3: 427. According to the author, racial discrimination continues to be a primary determinate in judicial sentencing disparities. He uses 40 studies in his article, including 32 at the state judicial level and 8 that address the federal judiciary.


  • Center for Sentencing Initiatives. (2008). National Center for State Courts. Provides information, analysis, and education to promote sentencing practices that protect the public and reduce recidivism.
  • Criminal Sentencing Statistics. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics This web site includes information on 2002 incarceration statistics as well as a list of Bureau of Justice Statistics publications.
  • Death Penalty Information Center. The Death Penalty Information Center is a non-profit organization serving the media and the public with analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment.
  • Families Against Mandatory Minimums. Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) is a national nonprofit organization founded in 1991 to challenge inflexible and excessive penalties required by mandatory sentencing laws. FAMM promotes sentencing policies that give judges the discretion to distinguish between defendants and sentence them according to their role in the offense, seriousness of the offense and potential for rehabilitation.
  • Rottman, David B., et al. Tables 44-50: The Sentencing Context. (2006). Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. These tables provide an overview of sentencing responsibilities, options, guidelines, civil disabilities for felons, and truth-in-sentencing laws in the states.
  • The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. This is a private, non-profit educational organization that promotes solutions to the problems facing the criminal justice system.
  • The Sentencing Project. The Sentencing Project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which promotes decreased reliance on incarceration and increased use of more effective and humane alternatives.
  • United States Sentencing Commission. The Commission’s duties include developing guidelines for sentencing in federal courts; collecting data about crime and sentencing; and serving as a resource to Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Judiciary on crime and sentencing policy.
  • Kauder, Neal, Brian Ostrom, Meredith Peterson, and David Rottman. Sentencing Commission Profiles: State Sentencing Policy and Practice Research in Action Partnership. (1997). Reference guide containing profiles of system designs employed by states' sentencing commissions.

Sentencing Statistics

Truth in Sentencing

  • Ostrom, Brian, Charles Ostrom, Roger Hanson, and Matthew Kleiman. Assessing Consistency and Fairness in Sentencing: A Comparative Study in Three States. (2008). New Study Finds State Guidelines Boost Consistency, Reduce Discrimination in Sentencing.
  • Brennan, Michael B., and Donald V. Latorraca. Truth-in-Sentencing Comes to Wisconsin. (2000). Wisconsin Lawyer: Official Publication of the State Bar of Wisconsin 73, no. 5: 14. This website has an article explaining the 1997 Wisconsin Act 283, which instituted the statewide Truth-in-Sentencing Program, and its ramifications. The article also has relevant Wisconsin statutes pertaining to the program.
  • Ostrom, Brian, Fred Cheesman, Ann Jones, Meredith Peterson, and Neal Kaunder. Truth-in-Sentencing in Virginia: Evaluating the Process and Impact of Sentencing Reform. (1999). NCSC and Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission. Truth-In-Sentencing (TIS) tries to minimize the disparity between the sentence given by the judge and the actual amount of time a prisoner serves.  The objectives of the report are to analyze Virginia's development and implementation of TIS, forecast its impact, and evaluate the recidivism rates of Virginian offenders.
  • Lydia Tiede, Robert Carp and Kenneth L. Manning. Judicial Attributes and Sentencing-Deviation Cases: Do Sex, Race, and Politics Matter?. (2010). Justice System Journal vol 31, no 3. The authors test a range of judicial attributes on sentencing decisions using a database where judges must consider requests to depart from the Guidelines and the identity of judges is clearly discernible, as they analyze the effect of the landmark case U.S. v. Booker (2005).