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Expanding Judicial Sentencing Discretion

June 30, 2022

The Quattrone Center’s John Hollway shares his insights on the Court’s decision on sentencing reductions under the First Step Act.

On the recent decision in Concepcion v. United States, John Hollway C’92, MAPP’18, Executive Director of the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice and Lecturer in Law at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, released the following statement:

Concepcion furthers a view of the criminal justice system that realizes that modifications of sentences that fit emerging circumstances have the potential to improve the utility of those sentences, and that providing district court judges with the discretion to evaluate not only changing legal perspectives, but changing personal perspectives of people serving sentences can reduce incarceration without increasing criminal behavior.

While the decision does not focus on the “career offender” provision that contributed greatly to Mr. Concepcion’s lengthy sentence in the first place, I hope that it also reflects a view on the part of the Justices that “career offender” provisions that provide an automatic sentence enhancement for people with prior offenses removes judicial sentencing discretion in ways that may result in unnecessary incarceration, often with a racial bias, and that we see fewer of these provisions going forward.

Hollway is a national thought leader on the use of root cause analysis in criminal justice, and a frequent consultant to criminal justice agencies and corporations on quality improvement and measurement issues. His research helps organizations confront challenges and turn negative occurrences into opportunities for quality improvement.

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