In 1984 the Sentencing Reform Act (SRA) was adopted after years of proposed legislation and hearings in both houses. The SRA established Congress as a national leader in modern sentencing reform--one of the great criminal justice reform movements of the past century. At a time when both liberals and conservatives believed the classic American indeterminate sentencing model had failed, Congress constructively undertook, and, after a long and dogged effort, made great progress in meeting, the challenge of developing a new model of more principled sentencing.

Such a statement of praise will, of course, sound surprising to many criminal justice leaders, since the years have not been kind to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. They have been the subject of sustained criticism from judges, lawyers, scholars, and members of Congress, and a wide consensus has emerged that the Federal Guidelines have in many ways failed. But some historical perspective reminds us that the new system created by the SRA was a dramatic step toward achieving the goals that both liberals and conservatives continue to invoke: proportionality between crime and sanction, a reasonable balance between uniformity and individualization, due process protections and appellate review, attention to the informed wisdom of sentencing experts, and balanced allocation of power and responsibility among the branches and agencies of government...

 

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