The Use of Alternative Sentences to Imprisonment Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines

William P. Adams, The Urban Institute

Many legal scholars and some federal judges have criticized the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for their emphasis on sentences to imprisonment that are widely regarded as too severe. The guidelines do permit several sentencing alternatives to imprisonment (intermediate sanctions) for offenders that meet certain requirements. These alternatives include probation, fines, and intermediate confinement options (intermittent confinement, community confinement, and home detention) that substitute for imprisonment. However, critics have maintained that the guidelines do not encouraging the use of these alternatives in enough appropriate cases. For this reason, some federal judges have recommended amending the guidelines to allow for the use of alternatives in a wider variety of cases. This paper will examine the extent to which these alternative sentences to prison are available and being utilized in the federal system. In addition, a multivariate predictive model to determine the type of offender likely to receive an alternative sentence will be constructed. The association between important case and offender characteristics and the receipt of an alternative sentence will be investigated. The research will use logistic regression techniques to examine the relationship between both legal factors (criminal history, offense type and seriousness) and extra-legal factors (such as race, gender, socioeconomic status, citizenship, number of dependents, circuit, and district) with the receipt of an alternative sentence. The analysis will use U.S. Sentencing Commission data on sentenced offenders, available through BJS's Federal Justice Statistics Resource Center at the Urban Institute.

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Updated 05/20/2006