The disparity in sentencing in the criminal justice system. In the mid 1970’s a remarkable burst of reforms
(Walker, p. 112) were introduced whose main concern was about disparity and
discrimination in sentencing. The indeterminate sentence was the main focus of the
reform efforts. The sentence in which the offender received a minimum or
maximum sentence and the date of release was decided by the parole board is
known as indeterminate sentence. Under such sentencing the judge was to decide
about the punishment by not only looking at the crime but also looking at the
circumstances and the potential for rehabilitation. On the basis of this judgment
the parole board was to decide the date of release. Discretion was distributed
amongst not only to the justice officials but also the parole board. The result of
this process was:
"A system of sentencing in which there was little
understanding or predictability as to who would be
imprisoned and for how long"
(Bureau of Justice Assistance, p. 6).
Both the liberal and the conservative boards challenged the
reforms. The liberal presented an argument that the intensity on of the punishment
should not rest with the criminal officers or the parole board because they may
have racial issues. While the conservative board argued that the punishments given
to criminals were too lenient. Their arguments bolstered by the findings of
research demonstrating that most correctional programs designed to rehabilitate
offenders and reduce recidivism were ineffective (Martinson).
After a few initial missteps the federal government and
states adopted the determinate proposal. One of the most restrictive systems is the
California’s determinate sentencing this was adopted in 1976. It classified offenses
into four categories of seriousness and established a presumptive sentence, an
aggravated range, and a mitigated range for each category.
The system of determinate sentencing adopted in Illinois gives
the judges all the rights to decide the punishment. In 1977 the legislation enacted
and decided some punishments based on the severity of the crime for example class X
offences (excluding murder) had punishments from six to thirty years. In some of the
states the parole board also played a role that whether a person should be
released or not. Later the parole board was excluded from this decision and the
release completely depended upon the behavior and criminal record of the
offender. Presumptive and voluntary were some of the other reforms which were
made for sentencing. The movements towards the presumptive reforms started in
the 1970’s and it was adopted in many states. But however, most jurisdictions
eventually abandoned voluntary guidelines in favor of determinate sentencing or
presumptive sentencing guidelines.
The National Research Council’s Panel on Sentencing Research
characterized the sentencing decision as "the symbolic keystone of the criminal
justice system" adding that similar cases should be dealt in a similar way and the
aim of punishment should be improving the behavior of the offender and racial or
other issues should be kept aside.