One Perspective on Sentencing Reform in the United States

Criminal Law Forum, Vol. 8, pp. 1-41, 1997

45 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2003

See all articles by Paul H. Robinson

Paul H. Robinson

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School


In this wide-ranging essay, Robinson, a former Commissioner of the United States Sentencing Commission, who dissented from the Commission's guidelines, gives his analysis of the problems that triggered the reforms of the past two decades, how those problems have been attacked, the resulting effect of the reforms, the problems that remain, and how the remaining problems might be solved. In particular, Robinson focuses on what he calls the problems of irrationality, disparity, and deception, as being the primary motivation for modern reforms such as the federal Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. He concludes that the problem of deception has been solved, although we will continue to suffer through a difficult transition period as public expectations of prison term lengths change to match what the reality has long been. The problem of disparity has been significantly reduced, he concludes, although more can and should be done. It is the problem of irrationality, Robinson argues, that has not been addressed and will remain a barrier to fair and effective sentencing. He offers his own view of how the problem ought to be attacked, but expresses some pessimism as it whether the needed reforms are possible within the current political climate. The essay is derived from lectures given at the United Nations Institute in Fuchu, Tokyo, Japan (UNAFEI).

Keywords: sentencing

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Robinson, Paul H., One Perspective on Sentencing Reform in the United States. Criminal Law Forum, Vol. 8, pp. 1-41, 1997, Available at SSRN: or

Paul H. Robinson (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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