The Future of Sentencing Reform: Emerging Legal Issues in the Individualization of Justice

This article will focus on the mechanics of the individualization process: the manner in which dispositional information is collected, the quality of the resulting data, and the methodologies employed for its communication to and assessment by correctional decision makers. This focus is important because another distinctive feature of the American criminal justice system is the severity of the sentences it imposes. Not only is the average length of sentences imposed on American offenders far in excess of that imposed in other Western nations, but there is considerable evidence that the average length of sentences has increased in direct response to the transition from a system of standardized sentences to the “humanitarian” system of individualized sentences. At the same time, those opposing procedural reform and formalization of the sentencing process have chiefly argued that individualization requires that the sentencing judge be given unfettered discretion. It thus becomes essential to ask what justification exists for the immense faith that has been placed in the ability of correctional decision makers to individualize justice in a rational and equitable manner.