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The Regulation of Sentencing Decisions: Why Information Disclosure Is Not Sufficient, and What To Do About It

54 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2014 Last revised: 8 Aug 2016

W.C. Bunting

U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division

Date Written: February 28, 2014


This Article identifies a number of problems, both in practice and in theory, in what is denoted here as the “information disclosure model of sentencing regulation.” While the disclosure model places a lack of information at the heart of the problem of inefficient sentencing policy, the present article explains how the problem is better understood, not as informational, but incentives-based. A statutory appropriation requirement is described that seeks to correct an explained incentive to engage in myopic legislative decision-making; specifically, a one-year appropriation is required from a general budget fund into a statutorily-created special reserve fund for any proposed change in sentencing policy projected to increase the correctional population. A survey of existing statutory appropriation requirements is provided and certain best practices are identified; in addition, a novel statutory provision is proposed: monies should be appropriated from the special reserve fund to the general fund if a bill is projected to decrease the correctional population. Such withdrawals from the special reserve fund made in the current fiscal period serve as concrete, immediate evidence of the fiscal benefits of less punitive criminal sentences, where such benefits are often realized only in the long-run, and supply a novel incentive for legislators to engage in forward-looking, fiscally-responsible sentencing policy. The present article further contends that proposed changes in sentencing policy should not be subjected to cost-benefit analysis (as opposed to fiscal impact analysis as required under the statutory appropriation requirement), because the retributive value of a criminal sentence is extremely difficult to measure given the current state of estimation technology.

Keywords: Sentencing, Information Disclosure, Fiscal Impact, Budget Systems

JEL Classification: E62, H72, K14

Suggested Citation

Bunting, W.C., The Regulation of Sentencing Decisions: Why Information Disclosure Is Not Sufficient, and What To Do About It (February 28, 2014). NYU Annual Survey of American Law, Vol. 70, No. 1, 2014. Available at SSRN: or

William Bunting (Contact Author)

U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division ( email )

United States

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