C2J Open Forum

Sentencing Commissions and Funding for Sentencing Studies

  • 1.  Sentencing Commissions and Funding for Sentencing Studies

    Posted 02-27-2018 09:38
    Our legislature is considering a bill to create a Sentencing Commission under our agency.  The goal of the legislation is not the creation of sentencing guidelines.  It is to review sentences to discovery disparities, including sentences which should be enhanced and which should be reduced or provide alternatives.  The commission is to begin its work in July, 2018 and is charged to provide a report to the Legislature by January, 2020.

    I have several questions for those of you who have worked with sentencing commissions:

    1. Given the scope of the mission, is this deadline realistic?
    2. What studies, data and analysis did other states use in reviewing their sentence structures?
    3. The bill authorizes our agency to seek federal or private funding to assist in the study.  Do you know of any resources available?
    4. What has been your experience in working with these commissions and managing the sometimes competing interests?

    Thanks for any help you can provide.

    Rick Staton, Director
    Division of Justice and Community Services
    1124 Smith St Ste 3100
    Charleston WV  25301-1323

    W. Staton
    WV Division of Justice & Community Services

  • 2.  RE: Sentencing Commissions and Funding for Sentencing Studies

    Posted 03-05-2018 13:00
    Hi Rick,

    Happy to chat directly about your questions as well, but here are some preliminary thoughts.

    1. The answer to this question depends on what staffing resources you have. If I was going to undertake this, I would want at least 1 (if not 2) attorneys who understand criminal law (maybe a prosecutor and defense attorney) to go line by line through the code. I think if you chunked it out a month at a time, and got the commission together in monthly intervals to take on the questions that arise along the way, this could be a realistic timeline. At least, I think I could do it in Oregon (not knowing how complicated your sentencing system is).
    2. We haven't done exactly what you're describing. Ideally you'd have a way to measure sentences by crime type. Access to a system that contains judgments would be perfect. We would have to use sentencing outcomes in Oregon, because we do not have automated judgments. I'd look for percentages of probation to prison by crime type. Average sentence length (could vary greatly by jurisdiction). If you have a reliable way to track and measure upward and downward departures, "stacked sentences", aggravating and mitigating factors used, that'd be extremely useful as well.
    3. I'm not aware of funding that would exist for this project…although NCJA may be.
    4. You need to have all voices represented at the table. That doesn't mean you need the loudest voices from the respective groups, however. Hopefully you have a little bit of input into who gets selected to be on the commission. Probably goes without saying, but you want reasonable people willing to do work…and not just grandstand. My experience is that you will be surprised at the level of consensus that can be attained if you have the right people around the table.
    Good luck!

    Feel free to shoot me an email if I can be of any further assistance.

    Michael Schmidt
    OR Criminal Justice Commission