In the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 (SRA) Congress envisioned federal sentencing with a technocratic cast, with policies designed and revised based on "advancement in knowledge of human behavior as it relates to the criminal justice process." The value of data and expertise in the sentencing enterprise jumps off the pages of the statute. Congress directed the U.S. Sentencing Commission to "establish a research and development [R&D] program" and to serve as a "clearinghouse and information center for the collection, preparation, and dissemination of information on Federal sentencing practices." One key activity of this sentencing R&D program was to "collect systematically" various forms of sentencing data and to publish those data.

Who would use all of this sentencing information? Most of the statutory provisions and the relevant legislative history point towards one primary user: the Sentencing Commission. Congress did not envision the Commission as the only user of the information, for the statute labeled the Commission as a "clearinghouse" and an "information center" and gave it data publication duties. Nevertheless, the statute includes specific directives to the Commission--and only to the Commission--about how it should use sentencing data. The external uses of the data stored in the "clearinghouse" remain unspecified, and the potential users of the data remain unnamed in the statute.


Read the full article.