Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Evidence-Based Sentencing

Everywhere you turn there is talk of evidence-based practices in criminal justice, in fact I talked about this on February 8 when the model curriculum for judges came out from the National Center for State Courts, The National Judicial College, and the Crime and Justice Institute. 

More recently an NIC-funded report came out from the Center for Effective Public Policy, in partnership with the Pretrial Justice Institute, the Justice Management Institute, and The Carey Group, entitled "A Framework for Evidence-Based Decision Making in Local Criminal Justice Systems."  It looks like a good document, but I must say that everywhere I look at this issue, I see unresolved the problem of reconciling EBP with plea bargaining.  The NIC report nicely summarizes the issue (but ultimately punts) thus:
[F]ew jurisdictions have available to them information about an offender’s risk to reoffend or criminogenic needs at the point of plea negotiation, meaning that key decisionmakers—prosecutors and defenders—negotiate these agreements absent information about how best to influence future criminal behavior based on the unique characteristics of the offender being sentenced. As a result, in most jurisdictions, cases are passed along to corrections and/or probation, which then assess risk/needs and, in many cases, work to retrofit research-based interventions to court-imposed sentencing parameters. Arguably, the introduction of risk/need information at the plea stage—and perhaps earlier—could have a profound effect on judicial decisions, and yet this is not without its due process and resource challenges. This is another of the important issues the initiative will address in Phase II.

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