Prison overcrowding has intensified interest in sentencing commissions and guidelines. Minnesota and Washington have demonstrated that such systems can conserve state resources and buffer political pressures while achieving a reasonably consistent and accountable sentencing system. More commissions fail, however, than succeed. The successes have been characterized by talented staffs, adequate resources, effective political leadership, and processes that encompass all affected constituencies. Difficult policy issues, such as abolition of mandatory sentencing laws, should be faced at the outset. Where criminal justice policy is so politicized that hard choices cannot be addressed, the sentencing commission approach is likely to fail.