Federal Sentencing Reporter
Recidivism has now replaced rehabilitation as the guiding principle of punishment. It is increasingly used to steer criminal justice policy despite research limitations. It serves as a stand-in for public safety, even though lengthy incarceration may have criminogenic and other negative ramifications for family members and communities. Yet the U.S. Sentencing Commission emphasizes recidivism. It emphasizes what amounts to preemptive imprisonment for those with long criminal records to prevent future offending.
The Commission’s work should come with a warning label. First, its recidivism studies should not be consumed on their own. Instead they must be read in conjunction with U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services recidivism research, which includes data on the impact of programming, treatment, and services on reentry success, including recidivism. Second, the recidivism studies plainly raise questions about the Commission’s role. Their negative tone and ongoing preference for imprisonment indicate that the Commission continues to adhere to its role as guardian of pro-imprisonment guidelines. If the Commission were to play a more useful and effective part in criminal justice reform, it should consider using its research strength in alternative ways to collaborate with other participants in the federal system.
Nora V. Demleitner, The U.S. Sentencing Commission’s Recidivism Studies: Myopic, Misleading, and Doubling Down on Imprisonment, 33 Fed. Sent'g Rep. 11 (2020).