The President's Commission and Sentencing, Then and Now

Criminology & Public Policy (2018 Forthcoming)

14 Pages Posted: 26 Dec 2017

See all articles by Michael Tonry

Michael Tonry

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Law

Date Written: December 20, 2017


The President’s Commission’s proposals on sentencing were sensible, humane, well-informed, and ambitious. They were premised on an assumption that indeterminate sentencing, then ubiquitous, would long continue, and sought to remedy its weaknesses and build upon its strengths. That assumption proved wrong. Within a decade, indeterminate sentencing and its rehabilitative aspirations lost credibility and legitimacy. Within two decades, American policies incorporated features such as determinate sentences, lengthy prison terms, and mandatory minimum sentence laws that the commission explicitly repudiated. The commission’s influence is evident in successful sentencing reform initiatives of the 1970s and early 1980s, some of which survive in a few places in compromised forms. Many of the commission’s proposals to make sentencing fairer, more consistent, and less vulnerable to influence by political considerations and public emotion, are as germane today as they were in 1967.

Keywords: President’s Commission, sentencing reform, sentencing policy, tough on crime, indeterminate sentencing

Suggested Citation

Tonry, Michael, The President's Commission and Sentencing, Then and Now (December 20, 2017). Criminology & Public Policy (2018 Forthcoming), Available at SSRN:

Michael Tonry (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Law ( email )

229-19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

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