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Sentencing: Guidelines

Guidelines And Parole Release

The workings of any set of sentencing guidelines are interrelated with the sentencing authority held by other institutional actors in the punishment system. The impact of sentencing guidelines on prison terms can be greatly affected by the presence or absence of a parole board with authority to set release dates for incarcerated offenders. Marvin Frankel argued in the early 1970s that parole release should be cut back once sentencing commissions had brought rational uniformity to the penalties imposed by judges, and Frankel joined other voices decrying the standardless, arbitrary, and unreviewable nature of parole board decision-making. Among guideline systems as of 2001, nine of sixteen legislatures have chosen to abolish parole release in conjunction with guideline reform—usually under the banner of "truth in sentencing." (See Figure 1.) In such systems, the guideline sentence pronounced by the trial judge, allowing for good-time reductions by prison authorities, will bear close resemblance to the sentence actually served by the convicted offender.

The remaining seven guideline jurisdictions, however, have retained parole release discretion in some form. Thus, for example, in Pennsylvania, the guidelines for prison cases set forth minimum terms of incarceration. Under state law, the maximum must then be set equal to at least double the minimum. The Pennsylvania parole board enjoys authority to release prisoners who have served the minimum sentence, but the board may also in its discretion require the prisoner to serve out the full sentence (with adjustment for good time credits). On the other side of the scale, Congress's Sentencing Reform Act (authorizing the federal guidelines) abolished parole release and limited the availability of good time to 15 percent of an offender's pronounced sentence. Thus, in the federal system, incarcerated offenders serve a minimum of 85 percent of imposed penalties.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawSentencing: Guidelines - Origins Of Sentencing Commissions And Guidelines, Design Features Of Guideline Structures, Guideline Grids, Guidelines For Intermediate Punishments