Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A History of Wisconsin Sentencing- Part XXX

The previous posts on the CPSC's Sentencing Guidelines and Computer Modeling subcommittees detailed the shortcomings of their work that resulted from the time and resource constraints they were under. This posts details how the CPSC used their recommendations for a second Wisconsin Sentencing Commission to see through the work they were unable to complete.

Act 283 charged the CPSC with making recommendations for a Sentencing Commission whose only stated role was “to promulgate advisory sentencing guidelines;” the Committee’s own guidelines were only for “temporary” use until the Sentencing Commission developed its own. In other words, the Sentencing Commission was to pick up where the CPSC left off.
But as the Committee developed multiple goals for the guidelines and identified other needs in the sentencing system, their vision for the Sentencing Commission grew correspondingly, becoming a means to pick up the many other tasks the Committee had been forced to leave off. From its simple statutory role of promulgating guidelines, the Commission grew via the Committee’s recommendations to become a “large, broad-based group” with a “powerful policy role,” its stated responsibilities laying as much with confronting problems the CPSC had confronted and finishing the jobs the CPSC had started than with duties relating narrowly to promulgation of the guidelines.

The Committee’s final report confirms this interpretation early in its section on the Commission. “Even if there was no legislative mandate for a Sentencing Commission,” the Committee wrote, “the creation of such a commission is desirable for a number of reasons.” Among them were the Commission’s stated role in recommending sentencing guidelines and related role in studying and communicating sentencing options. But also listed are two different tasks that the CPSC dealt with but could not finish: linking the disparate viewpoints- and databases- of other criminal justice actors in the state, and providing cost and population projections for policymakers and legislators alike. All three issues would guide the more specific recommendations the Committee would make on behalf of the Commission.

Indeed, even before providing those justifications, the Committee opened its section on the Commission with criticism of the lack of coordination between state criminal justice agencies. “Often the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing,” the Committee seethed, and even if a particular entity did make an effort to coordinate, “that entity’s computer system is not compatible with any other entity.” Thus, the Sentencing Commission could serve “as a link among various criminal justice agencies” to remedy those disconnections, as well as between “the legislature and the Department of Corrections.”

Though this “linking role” was the Committee’s headline function of the Commission, it was its subsequent “research role,” perhaps better described as its informational role, which formed the basis for the preponderance of the Commission’s recommended tasks. By “monitor[ing] sentencing practice,” the Commission could modify the guidelines recommendations but also “compile data regarding anticipated resource needs.” Indeed, the report spends more time discussing the details of the Commission’s projection work than its guidelines work, recommending that the Commission report to the legislature budget needs and work with the legislative budget office to “project the fiscal impact of any proposed new criminal laws.” Further reflecting that the Commission was to pick up where the CPSC left off, the Committee repeatedly noted that the Commission could use and build upon the Committee’s own computer model to create those projections.

The Commission was given two other tasks, outside of its general “roles.” It was to pick up on the other responsibility the CPSC had developed for itself, taking “the lead in teaching the sentencing guidelines.” The Committee also “strongly” recommended that the Commission “formally study the minority racial overrepresentation within Wisconsin’s criminal justice system.”

All of this added up to what the Committee saw as a “powerful policy role,” and their concrete recommendations for the Commission’s makeup reflected those added priorities. Seeking a staff and budget comparable to commissions in the other states the Committee had studied- “especially Virginia’s”- the Committee recommended a staff of six and a budget of approximately $400,000. Pursuant to the roles the Committee envisioned for the Commission, the report suggested that along with an executive and deputy director, the staff breakdown should include one training coordinator, one data entry operator, and two research analysts. And concordant with its intended role as a linking agency, the Committee recommended a Commission membership not dissimilar from its own, with representation from all elements of the criminal justice community: judges, legislators, a public defender, a district attorney, a victim’s advocate, and two members “not in public employment.”

Clearly, the CPSC’s goals in developing the Sentencing Commission went well beyond the statutory charges of guidelines promulgation; rather, they invested their vision for improvements of the entire criminal justice system in their recommendations. And based on what that vision entailed- cost projection, data development, internal coordination and education- it is quite reasonable to interpret the Sentencing Commission as a proxy successor to the CPSC’s own work. The Commission was to pick up the concerns Committee members had; continue the efforts they had made as modelers, educators and coordinators; and see those efforts through to conclusions the Committee itself had been unable to reach.

Part XXXI will discuss the release of the CPSC report and the legislative maneuvering that quickly followed.

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