Simple Theory, Hard Reality

The Impact of Sentencing Reforms on Courts, Prisons, and Crime

By Tamasak Wicharaya

Subjects: Sociology Of Law
Series: SUNY series in New Directions in Crime and Justice Studies
Paperback : 9780791425084, 235 pages, August 1995
Hardcover : 9780791425077, 235 pages, August 1995

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Table of contents





1. An Introduction to Sentencing Reform

A Theory of Criminal Sentencing Reform
The Court Community Model
Definition of Policy Success
Plan of Study

2. The Origins of Sentencing Reforms

Criminal Law Reform
The Rise and Fall of the Therapeutic State
The Sentencing Reform Movement: A Return to the Determinate Sentence System

3. Sentencing Reforms in Practice

Legislative Control over Judicial Decisions: When to Incarcerate? For How Long? When to Release?
Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws
Mandatory Determinate Sentencing Laws
Presumptive Determinate Sentencing Laws
Presumptive Sentencing Guidelines
Voluntary Sentencing Guidelines

4. Evaluations of Sentencing Reform Impacts

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws
Mandatory Determinate Sentencing Laws
Presumptive Determinate Sentencing Laws
Presumptive Sentencing Guidelines
Voluntary Sentencing Guildelines
Prior Evaluations of Sentencing Reform Impacts and Their Methodological Limitations

5. The Court Community's Response to Sentencing Reforms

The Flow of Criminal Cases
The Dynamics of the Court Community Systems
The Disposition of Felony Cases
Adaptive Responses to Sentencing Reforms

6. Consequences of Sentencing Reforms

The Limits of Severe Penalties
The Growth of Prison Populations
The Rise in Violent Crime
Policy Implications and Conclusion

7. Sentencing Reform: Simple Theory, Hard Reality

A Summary of Evaluation Results
Sentencing Reform on Trial: A Simple Policy That Fails
Simple Theory, Hard Reality

Appendix A. Research Methodology

Appendix B. Statistical Procedure



This book evaluates the impact of tough sentencing reforms on the courts, prisons, and crime. It also unpacks the resulting policy implications.


This book analyzes the origins, contemporary trends, and consequences of sentencing reforms in the United States. It explores and clarifies the principles, current practices, and implementation problems of "get tough on crime" legislation that has been America's most predominant response to crime during the past two decades. In evaluating the impact of these reforms on courts, prisons, and crime, a theory of criminal sentencing reform is built and applied to the data across 47 states over almost 30 years. It relies on original analyses that yield interesting research findings and insightful interpretations.

The author argues that policymakers tend to reduce complex reality to a simplistic form that predicts policy consequence and they tend to adhere to criminology theories that have policy implications that are consistent with their policy choices. The theory of criminal sentencing reform explains various casual links that link the following important factors: sentencing reform policies, sentencing behavior, the size of the prison population, and crime.

This book is an important contribution to the debate over sentencing reform policy. It is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand why sentencing reforms failed to achieve their intended goals.

Tamasak Wicharaya is Deputy Superintendent of Police Administration Section in the Academic Section of the Police Cadet Academy, Sampran, Nakorn Pathom, Thailand.