Crime and Punishment: The Older Federal Offender

Nicole Alford, Rhodes College

Each year approximately ten percent of offenders sentenced under the federal sentencing guidelines are older than age 50; one-quarter of these are over age 60. These percentages have remained stable for almost ten years. While these offenders are older, other differences in their characteristics compared to younger offenders sentenced for similar crimes are noteworthy: differing distribution of criminal offenses, as well as differing profiles on other demographic characteristics. This descriptive paper examines the older offender sentenced under the federal guidelines. Comparisons between older and younger offenders are made by offense types, characteristics of offense behavior, seriousness levels, and prior criminal history. The analysis links these variables with final sentencing outcomes, and examines the role of downward departures on sentencing practices. The analysis concludes with a discussion of whether the observed empirical relationships for older federal offenders are consistent with the four purposes of sentencing under the federal guidelines system: incapacitation, just punishment, deterrence, and rehabilitation. The paper uses original data tabulations from the offender datafiles of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

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Updated 05/20/2006