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Rethinking the U.S. Punishment Process

Symposium Seeks to Reinvigorate Research into Criminal Sentencing

Contact(s):  Catherine Herman (518) 956-8150

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Court gavel

With the U.S. prison-incarcerated population having quadrupled since 1980, many argue the status quo in sentencing is not working.

ALBANY, N.Y. (September 17, 2010) -- According to criminological scholars, empirical study of criminal sentencing has stagnated, despite the growing policy discussion at the state and federal levels about mass incarceration and reentry.

The Symposium on Crime and Justice: The Past and Future of Empirical Sentencing Research, to be held Thursday and Friday, Sept. 23-24, at UAlbany's Page Hall, is an attempt to reinvigorate empirical research in this area by reengaging experts from a variety of disciplines and reconnecting with the ongoing sentencing policy debates.

Shawn Bushway, associate professor in UAlbany's School of Criminal Justice and the symposium's director, points out the challenge to effecting real change in America's system of criminal sentencing. "The punishment received by those convicted in the criminal justice system is the outcome of a complex set of interactions between actors, beginning with the initial charge and ending when the convicted individual is released from supervision," he said.

With the U.S. prison-incarcerated population having quadrupled since 1980, many argue the status quo is not working. "The world of sentencing has experienced a sea change over the past 25 years," said Bushway. "Yet the world of sentencing research has not advanced much since the last comprehensive discussion of empirical sentencing research in 1983: the National Academy of Sciences report, 'Research on Sentencing: The Search for Reform.'"

The symposium, funded in large part by the National Science Foundation, seeks to articulate prior research on sentencing and advance this body of work by emphasizing cross-disciplinary perspectives in four key areas:

Risk assessment in sentencing: what is the potential for diverting low-risk offenders from prison to alternate-sanction programs?
Discretion and decision making in the sentencing process: who are the people making the decisions; how do we study the effectiveness of various decisions?
Managing criminal justice populations: why has the prison population of America quadrupled since 1980; how can the various actors work together better to reduce this population?
The role of race in sentencing outcomes: what is the right balance of sentencing effectiveness and equal justice for all?

The symposium will include a special session on Friday, Sept. 24, from 11 to 11:45 a.m., "A Discussion with the U.S. Sentencing Commission about Demographic Differences in Federal Sentencing," that will include Glenn R. Schmitt, director of the Office of Research and Data of the United States Sentencing Commission.

Registration details and a secure registration form are available through the School of Criminal Justice Web site, or by e-mailing Associate Director Diana Mancini.

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