Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Roughly three out of one hundred adults in the United States are under some form of correctional control. Scaling back sentencing practices could save resources, mitigate collateral consequences, and reduce racial disparities. However, these practices could also reduce deterrence and weaken incapacitation effects. Using quasi-experimental designs and statistical methods, I examine three types of policy interventions that seek to manage the scope of the criminal justice system: prosecutor guidelines, judicial sentencing feedback systems, and prosecutor-led diversion for misdemeanor offenses. I gauge the extent to which these interventions can reduce the footprint of the criminal justice system and consider their trade-offs. I find that prosecutor guidelines can regulate line prosecutors into seeking short sentences and non-custodial sanctions, but curbing prosecutorial discretion incentivizes shopping for favorable judges which creates inefficiencies. Sentencing feedback systems can identify outlier judges that contribute to sentencing disparities. Providing judges with information on their sentencing practices and expanding the capacity for alternative sanctions could help nudge outlier judges closer to their colleagues. Adult diversion for misdemeanor offenses can reduce long-term recidivism rates and the use of criminal justice resources, but their efficacy depends on the degree to which a net-widening effect, the diversion program’s tendency to draw in defendants that previously would have been dismissed, is balanced out by a net-narrowing effect, the diversion program’s capacity to facilitate exiting the justice system with a clean slate. Understanding these trade-offs is critical for practitioners and policymakers who manage the scope of the criminal justice system.
Nguyen, Viet H., "Understanding The Trade-Offs In Scaling Back Sentencing Practices" (2022). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 5521.