Rational Sentencing

There are many different, and often conflicting, approaches regarding criminal sentencing procedures, including how to balance the rehabilitative needs of the defendant while simultaneously ensuring the safety of the community. In Texas politics, for example, “overshadowing debates on the most effective way to reduce crime is a moral trade-off between ensuring the public safety on the one hand, and protecting the rights of the accused and providing humane punishments for the convicted.” (2006). for probation officers, the most difficult part of the sentencing phase is determining their recommendations to the court.

In the case study at bar, Probation Officer Mary wanted to recommend probation for the sex offender. She assessed the defendant as an individual; with all the life experiences that came with him, and believed that he would best be rehabilitated and deterred from future criminal acts with a period of probation. When she sought the approval of her supervisor, however, her decision to recommend probation was overruled and changed to a jail sentence. In explaining his decision to veto Mary’s recommendation, her supervisor explained that there was a prior sex offender case in which the Department of Probation recommended probation, and while on probation the defendant committed another sex crime. After that, the Department was made to account for its recommendation, and was accused of leniency for a heinous act.

Every agency has policies in place that have withstood the test of time. These policies have been handed down from one manager to another, who, in turn, educated the new employees. As stated in our case reading, “assumptions and beliefs are learned responses to problems that are valued enough to pass on to new members through both the formal and informal socialization processes.” (Stojkovic, Kalinich, Klofas, 2003) In Mary’s case, her Department clearly had a policy in place for sex offenses; mainly, never to recommend probation.

Mary was new to her job, fresh out of college, and was unaware of the institutional knowledge of the more experienced employees. She questioned the office policy, arguing that every case is different and should be assessed on an individual, case-by-case basis. In response, her superior retorted that while every case may have different facts, the one commonality is the offense itself. In other words, the office policy is to treat every sex offender case the same way.

The political underpinnings of the sex offender policy cannot be overlooked. Political concerns often, if not always, play a part in every organization’s decision-making process. Each has its reputation at stake, and the Department of Probation even more so, as its recommendations are often the subject of scrutiny by the press and society in general. The political fall out in the subject case actually stemmed from a prior recommendation in a separate case that ended up being harshly criticized when the criminal committed further acts of criminality. Based on the prior mishaps with sex offenders who were placed on probation and the committed additional sex offenses, the Department concluded that all sex offenders must serve a prison sentence. Whether this determination was based upon scientific evidence that all sex offenders will continue to commit sex offenders if not jailed, or whether it was based on the backlash of angered members of society, is the difference between political decision making and institutional knowledge.

Rational guidelines and the potential political ramifications should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Every defendant, and every case, is different. Although following the guidelines in most cases is acceptable, there will always be exceptions to the general rule. In those instances, experienced personnel are called upon to exercise their discretion. In so doing, these managers must weigh the individual factors of the case against political considerations. When Mary asked her supervisor to approve her recommendation of probation, she failed to realize that such determinations have larger implications as well.
The culture of this case study is that there are policies in place depending on the crime. Mary learned that the culture was that when there is a case involving a sex offense the acceptable solution is to recommend jail time to the judge. She learned about the procedure in general by learning that a recommendation of jail time for sex offenders is the policy her agency utilizes. The ready-made answer to this case study was that any case involving a sex offender is jail time. The basic assumption of this organization is that sex offenders will re commit a sex crime if put on probation.

The office policy is based on past occurrences. Mary has some discretion to the extent that she can highlight the defendant’s positive characteristic to imply to the courts that he may be a candidate for probation. Even though there are policies in place there are other cultural aspects that can be brought into the case. In the courtroom, for example, off the record, the defense attorneys may sometimes approach the probation officer what they would say if put on the stand. This would allow the probation officer to give examples as to why probation would be expectable instead of jail time.

Cultural and political concerns can be made part of the formal decision making processes because they can put a policy in place, for example, stating all sex offenders receive nothing less than probation. “Many decisions in criminal justice involve the prediction of future behavior. ” (Stojkovic, Kalinich, Klofas, 2003) In Mary’s case, prediction models could address the concerns of this case. If prediction models address what future behavior may occur from a criminal, with the case of this sex offender, we could predict that he may commit future sex crimes due to the past behavior of other sex offenders.
Without guidelines and polices within an agency, new members to the team may have a hard time deciding on what should occur on a case due to the political aspects that are involved with any decision making process.

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