Federal Sentencing Reporter


The Federal Sentencing Reporter was launched more than two decades ago by legal experts and scholars Daniel J. Freed and Marc L. Miller, in collaboration with the Vera Institute of Justice. It is the only academic journal in the United States that focuses on sentencing law, policy, and reform.

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, policymakers, 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 selected article, and the table of contents. Other articles, subscription services, and archives are available through University of California Press


Volume: 26, Number: 3
February 2014

Critical Issues in the Use of Risk Assessments, Prior Record Enhancements, and Probation/Parole Revocation

Excerpted from the Guest Editor's Observation: The four articles published in this issue were presented at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the National Association of Sentencing Commissions (NASC) that was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The articles address important inter-related sentencing policy issues which are of interest to sentencing commissions and their staffs. These articles demonstrate the substantial fiscal and human impacts that policy choices have and the many ways in which theses differing areas are linked. The first two papers note that formal and informal risk assessments are made at many stages of criminal justice processing and the impact of formal risk assessments will only become greater as risk assessment technology improves. Risk assessments are also a central issue in the other two papers in this issue, as both authors argue that sentencing commissions should revisit and reconsider criminal history enhancements and conditions of release.

Finally, this issue contains a publication from the Vera Institute of Justice on mandatory minimum sentencing laws. This report by Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections summarizes state-level mandatory sentencing reforms since 2000, raises questions about their impact, and offers recommendations to jurisdictions considering similar efforts.

Guest Editor's Observations
Recurring Policy Issues of Guidelines (and non-Guidelines) Sentencing: Risk Assessments, Criminal History Enhancements, and the Enforcement of Release Conditions

Richard S. Frase, Benjamin N. Berger Professor in Criminal Law, University of Minnesota School of Law & Co-Director, Robina Institute of Criminal Law & Criminal Justice

Featured Article
Risk Redux: The Resurgence of Risk Assessment in Criminal Sanctioning 

John Monahan, John S. Shannon Distinguished Professor of Law, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatric Medicine, and Jennifer L. Skeem, Professor, Berkeley School of Social Welfare and Goldman School of Public Policy

This article examines the recent rise in the use of risk assessments in criminal sanctioning, reviewing both their advantages and limitations. A criminal risk assessment is an empirical tool created to judge how likely, based on a set of predetermined factors, an individual is to commit a new crime.  The authors begin by briefly tracing the history of risk assessments in the United States—from their introduction shortly after the Civil War to their being rolled back and replaced with truth-in-sentencing laws in the 1980’s. In the last few years, risk assessments have reappeared, primarily for fiscal reasons. States simply cannot afford to house so many prisoners for so long. And legal ramifications have also come into play, as is the case with California being mandated by the Supreme Court to reduce its unconstitutionally overcrowded prison system. The authors then take a closer look at what can be learned from three states— Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Utah—which “have taken to incorporating risk and needs assessments more explicitly into their systems of criminal sanctioning than most others.” The article concludes with suggestions for how states can go about selecting risk assessment instruments that best suit their particular purposes and available resources.

Other articles in this issue
(available through University of California Press)

Legal and Ethical Issues in the Prediction of Recidivism
Michael Tonry, McKnight Presidential Professor in Criminal Law and Policy, University of Minnesota School of Law, Director of the Institute on Crime and Public Policy & Scientific Member, Max Planck Institute on Comparative and International Criminal Law

Revisiting Prior Record Enhancement Provisions in State Sentencing Guidelines
Julian V. Roberts, Professor of Criminology, University of Oxford Faculty of Law, and Orhun H. Yalincak, University of Oxford Faculty of Law

The Role of Sentencing Commissions in the Imposition and Enforcement of Release Conditions  
Cecelia Klingele, Assistant Professor & Faculty Associate to the Remington Center, University of Wisconsin Law School

Playbook for Change? States Reconsider Mandatory Sentences
Ram Subramanian, Senior Program Associate, Center on Sentencing and Corrections, Vera Institute of Justice, and Ruth Delaney, Program Associate, Center on Sentencing and Corrections, Vera Institute of Justice


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In the most recent issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter, leaders of California’s criminal justice system comment on the state’s Realignment policy, which aims to reduce the prison population by transferring certain lower-level inmates to county jails. In this guest blog post, Vera asked Don...
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I met Rick Kern soon after I started working at Vera in 2008. Rick had a long-standing relationship with Vera, and he served as an associate with Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections for many, many years. Rick was our “go-to guy” on just about every sentencing and corrections topic—...
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Scholars, practitioners, and justice advocates have extensively examined the corrosive impact of mass incarceration on families and communities. The inclusion of family impact statements into the justice equation, as reported by Vera, signals a welcome confluence of empirical research and criminal...
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Editor’s note: Rebekah Diller is deputy director of the Justice Program at the NYU School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice. She responds here to “The Unintended Sentence of Criminal Justice Debt,” an article in the October issue of Federal Sentencing Reporter. As states struggle to close...
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Even if you have never read the journal Federal Sentencing Reporter (FSR), I urge you to have a look at the October issue. Earlier this year, the journal’s editors invited Vera to plan and coordinate a special edition—serendipitously, the invitation came just as we began celebrating our 50th...
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