CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Tonry on Sentencing

Tonry-Michael-2009cMichael Tonry (University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Law) has posted two articles on SSRN. The first is Predictions of Dangerousness in Sentencing: Déjà Vu All Over Again (Crime and Justice—A Review of Research, Forthcoming). Here is the abstract:
Predictions of dangerousness are more often wrong than right, use information they shouldn’t, and disproportionately damage minority offenders. Forty years ago, two-thirds of people predicted to be violent were not. For every two “true positives,” there were four “false positives.” Contemporary technology is little better: at best, three false positives for every two true positives. The best-informed specialists say that accuracy topped out a decade ago; further improvement is unlikely. All prediction instruments use ethically unjustifiable information. Most include variables such as youth and gender that are as unjust as race or eye color would be. No one can justly be blamed for being blue-eyed, young, male, or dark-skinned. All prediction instruments incorporate socioeconomic status variables that cause black, other minority, and disadvantaged offenders to be treated more harshly than white and privileged offenders. All use criminal history variables that are inflated for black and other minority offenders by deliberate and implicit bias, racially disparate practices, profiling, and drug law enforcement that targets minority individuals and neighborhoods.
The second is Fifty Years of American Sentencing Reform — Nine Lessons (Crime and Justice—A Review of Research, Forthcoming). Here is the abstract:
Efforts to standardize sentences and eliminate disparities in a state or the federal system cannot succeed; distinctive practices and norms, diverse local cultures, and practical and political needs of officials and agencies assure major local differences in sentencing practice. Presumptive sentencing guidelines developed by sentencing commissions, however, are the most effective means to improve consistency, reduce disparity, and control corrections spending. Federal sentencing guidelines have been remarkably unsuccessful; they should be rebuilt from the ground up. Mandatory sentencing laws should be repealed, and no new ones enacted; they produce countless injustices, encourage cynical circumventions, and seldom achieve demonstrable reductions in crime. Black and Hispanic defendants are more likely than whites and Asians to be sentenced to imprisonment, and for longer; presumptive sentencing guidelines reduced racial disparities initially and over time, but most states do not have presumptive guidelines. Use of predictions of dangerousness to determine who is imprisoned and for how long is unjust; predictive accuracy has improved little in 50 years and current methods too often lengthen prison terms of people who would not have committed violent crimes. Except in the handful of states that have effective systems of presumptive sentencing guidelines, parole release is an essential component of a just and cost-effective sentencing system in the United States.

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