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Federal Sentencing in Transition, 1986-90

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 1992
Publication Series
This report compares sentences imposed before the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 with those imposed between January 1988 and June 1990 when an increasing percentage of defendants were subject to Federal sentencing guidelines and faced stiffer mandatory penalties. The report also examines time actually served by offenders released from Federal prison between 1986 and 1990.

The percentage of convicted Federal offenders receiving a prison sentence, which may have included a period of probation, rose from 52 percent during 1986 to 60 percent in the first half of 1990. Offenders sentenced under the guidelines were more likely to go to prison than those sentenced before the guidelines went into effect: 74 percent of guideline cases in 1990, compared to 52 percent of preguideline cases in 1986. The number and percentage of Federal offenders sentenced to prison increased primarily after 1988. Among those sentenced in Federal District Courts, the increased number of drug offenders accounted for most of the increase in prison sentences. The average length of Federal sentences to incarceration decreased between 1986 and 1990 for crimes other than drug offenses. Because offenders sentenced under the Sentencing Reform Act were not eligible for release on parole, however, more recently committed offenders were likely to be incarcerated longer than their predecessors. The use of probation sentences decreased from 63 percent in 1986 to 44 percent in the first half of 1990. Federal prisoners first released in 1990 served an average of 19 months, 75 percent of their court- imposed sentences. This was 29 percent longer than the average term served by prisoners first released in 1986. 14 tables

Date Published: June 1, 1992