The President's Commission and Sentencing, Then and Now

Michael Tonry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The proposals made in 1967 by the U.S. President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice on sentencing were sensible, humane, well informed, and ambitious. They were premised on an assumption that indeterminate sentencing, then ubiquitous, would long continue, and sought to remedy its weaknesses and build on its strengths. That assumption proved wrong. Within a decade, indeterminate sentencing and its rehabilitative aspirations lost credibility and legitimacy. Within two decades, American policies incorporated features such as determinate sentences, lengthy prison terms, and mandatory minimum sentence laws that the Commission explicitly repudiated. The Commission's influence is evident in successful sentencing reform initiatives of the 1970s and early 1980s, some of which survive in a few places in compromised forms. Many of the Commission's proposals to make sentencing fairer, more consistent, and less vulnerable to influence by political considerations and public emotion are as germane today as they were in 1967.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)341-354
Number of pages14
JournalCriminology and Public Policy
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 American Society of Criminology


  • guidelines
  • indeterminate sentencing
  • sentencing reform
  • sentencing structure


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