The Federal Role in Sentencing Law and Policy

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Compared to some other areas of governmental activity, the federal presence in the realm of sentencing law and policy has remained insignificant. Setting aside the growth in federal criminal jurisdiction per se, which still accounts for less than 8 percent of all incarcerated offenders, Congress historically has shown little interest in influencing the goals or the particulars of state sentencing systems and has done little to help fund those systems. This may, however, be changing. There are now calls to expand the federal government's role in both paying for and controlling the contours of criminal punishment at the state level. These developments raise long-term questions concerning the appropriate allocation of federal, state, and local authority over sentencing law. Surprisingly, very little consideration has been given to these issues. This article suggests a pragmatic analysis for addressing them. It posits that, for the foreseeable future, it would be a mistake to move toward a federally dominated national sentencing policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)116-129
Number of pages14
JournalThe ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1996


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