Sentencing in America,1975-2025

Michael Tonry

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36 Scopus citations


American sentencing policy has gone through four stages in the past 50 years. Indeterminate sentencing was followed by a sentencing reform period in which policy initiatives sought to make sentencing fairer and more consistent, a tough on crime period in which initiatives sought to make sentences harsher and more certain, and the current period, which is hard to characterize. Most tough on crime initiatives remain in place, coexisting with rehabilitative and restorative programs that aim to individualize sentencing and programming. Social science evidence was influential in the second period and to a limited degree in the current period. Indeterminate sentencing was broadly compatible with prevailing utilitarian ideas about the purposes of punishment and the sentencing reform period was broadly compatible with retributive ideas. The initiatives of the tough on crime period are difficult to reconcile with any coherent set of normative ideas. Current sentencing policies are a crazy quilt, making it impossible to generalize about prevailing normative ideas or an "American system of sentencing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-198
Number of pages58
JournalCrime and Justice
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 26 2013


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