Criminal Sentencing Reform

Legacy for the Correctional System
  • Kay A. Knapp
Part of the Law, Society and Policy book series (LSPO, volume 4)


Determinate sentencing laws enacted in the 1970s and presumptive sentencing guidelines implemented in the 1980s wrought major changes in criminal justice. For most of the twentieth century, an indeterminate system of sentencing held sway in the United States (Rothman, 1980). The key elements of indeterminate systems include (1) wide sentencing ranges with high statutory maximum sentences, such as 10, 20, or 30 years established by the legislature; (2) judicial determination of whether prison or probationary sentence will be imposed in a given case; (3) judicial pronouncement of a largely symbolic sentence duration for prison cases, usually consisting of the high statutory maximum sentence; and (4) administrative control over the actual prison term exercised by a parole board. The structure encouraged the judge and parole board to fashion a sentence to achieve whatever purpose of sentencing (deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, or punishment) deemed appropriate (von Hirsch, 1976).


Prison Population Sentencing Guideline Correctional Policy Sentencing Policy Substantive Reform 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kay A. Knapp
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Rational Public Policy, Inc.Takoma ParkUSA

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