, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 121-142

Predicting the estimated use of alternatives to incarceration

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A greater use of sentencing alternatives to incarceration may help to reduce problems related to prison crowding and high costs of incarceration. However, a judge's ability to use these alternatives more frequently may be hindered by state sentencing policies designed to reduce judicial sentencing discretion. A study of a national random sample of 181 chief trial court judges revealed that state sentencing policies, court size, and the degree of plea bargaining in a judge's court docket are significant predictors of a judge's estimated use of alternatives to incarceration. Also, these variables are significant predictors of a judge's willingness to use alternatives for specific groups of felons constituting significant proportions of state prison populations. Consistent with the latter finding, a descriptive analysis further revealed that judges who perceive less use of alternatives for felony offenders reside predominantly in states with more crowded prisons.