Volume: 24, Number: 3
February 2012

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Vera and the Federal Sentencing Reporter share an approach to policy change that relies on information, analytical examination, and innovation. Rare among scholarly journals, the Federal Sentencing Reporter focuses—in its authorship and readership—on academics as well as practitioners. In its pages, conversations take place among judges, lawyers, policy makers, and scholars. The publication is an intellectual resource that people in the field turn to for solutions and that academics rely on to propose, learn about, and discuss new ideas. Each issue offers in-depth analysis on a wide range of topics related to sentencing policies and practices.

The Federal Sentencing Reporter is published five times a year. For each issue, Vera posts on its web site the “Editor’s Observations” (a regular feature that highlights the themes of the issue), a select article, and the table of contents. Other articles, subscription services, and archives are available through University of California Press


Current Issue: Volume: 24, Number: 3
February 2012

Considering Costs and Other Data

The February issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter offers perspectives on whether and how to factor the financial cost of sentences into sentencing decisions. The Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission’s recent decision to provide judges with a sentence’s cost and recidivism data has produced an animated debate among experts and practitioners. This debate has raised important questions about the decision’s implications, including: whether factoring in financial cost affects the retributive goal of punishment, how to ensure fairness given that judges may weigh the importance of costs differently (or not at all), whether this type of cost consideration should take place in the legislature or the judiciary, and how great an impact Missouri’s decision will have on its overall corrections budget. Also in this issue of the FSR is the United States Sentencing Commission’s Report to Congress and a review of its findings on mandatory minimum penalties in the federal criminal justice system. 

Editor's Observations

Are Costs a Unique (And Uniquely Problematic) Kind of Sentencing Data?
Doug Berman, Robert J. Watkins/Procter & Gamble Professor of Law, Ohio State University Moritz College of Law

Featured Article

How (Not) To Implement Cost as a Sentencing Factor
Ryan W. Scott, Associate Professor of Law, Indiana University Maurer School of Law

While Missouri’s decision to make cost data available for judges’ consideration in sentencing is well-intentioned, the author argues, the policy’s approach is unlikely to result in the desired impact on the state’s corrections budget. Given that judges are not required to consider cost data in a sentence, Missouri’s policy may also lead to an increased level of disparity in sentencing decisions.

The article calls for a systemic rather than case-by-case approach to the use of cost considerations. To relieve both prison overcrowding and state budget pressures, the author recommends that Missouri follow Minnesota’s lead. There, the legislature instructs the state sentencing commission to take resource availability into consideration when designing its guidelines, which are presumptive rather than voluntary. This model would limit judicial discretion but allows for a sentencing policy that consistently accounts for the cost of incarceration.

Other articles in this issue

(available through University of California Press