State sentencing guidelines virtually eliminate discrimination in criminal punishments, regardless of how much judges are allowed to deviate from recommended prison terms, says a new study from the National Center for State Courts reported by the Associated Press. The report examined significantly different guidelines in three states: Virginia, where the guidelines are voluntary; Michigan, which offers some judicial discretion and Minnesota, which has the most mandatory system of the three.
The study concluded that the guidelines in each states resulted in consistent sentences that generally are not influenced by race and economic status. Wiping out racial discrimination was the major goal of a sentencing guidelines movement that began in the 1970s. The study was released at a National Governors Association retreat on sentencing and prison issues in Jacksonville, Fl. At least 20 states and the District of Columbia use guidelines that consider the nature of the offense and the defendant’s criminal history. Minnesota, Michigan, and Virginia were studied because their guidelines allow varying degrees of judicial discretion.