Saturday, December 15, 2007

Cop Guidelines, Sentencing Guidelines--You Say To-Mah-To

The Brits are facing a backlash against statistical targets that their version of cops (can't bring myself to call a brave, mature law enforcement official a "bobby") are required to meet rather than use their own judgment and discretion to handle situations facing them. Sound familiar? We tend to talk about sentencing guidelines in a silo, as if other professions haven't been facing the same distrust and restrictions on their discretion (can you say HMOs, "Leave No Child Behind," risk assessment tools in probation and parole, etc.?), but it's all just part of the general social trend toward public control of professional judgment and discretion, some of it warranted, some of it not. That's why these "targets" and other guidelines are so questionable in the long run because, as this article indicates, the injustice that occurs in the name of ending disparity and injustice undermines confidence in the professionals and their fields as well. Despite some silliness I've read on other blogs about "oh, my gracious, rule of law, rule of law," these fields require standards for the general and usual cases and discretion for the unusual. Advisory guidelines with plenty of data and analysis publicly discussed and fed back are the best way to get at this if thoroughly and consistently policed, but we're still a way off from that in almost every state (VA, PA, NC, maybe are the closest right now). In the meantime, we should be paying attention to stories like these in order to see if the other fields come up with ways of getting there that we could apply to our work as well.

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