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Evaluation of North Carolina's 1994 Structured Sentencing Law, 1992-1998 (ICPSR 2891) RSS

Principal Investigator(s):

Summary:

Effective October 1, 1994, the state of North Carolina implemented a new structured sentencing law that applied to all felony and misdemeanor crimes (except for driving while impaired) committed on or after October 1, 1994. Under the new structured sentencing law parole was eliminated, and a sentencing commission developed recommended ranges of punishment for offense and offender categories, set priorities for the use of correctional resources, and developed a model to estimate correctional populations. This study sought to investigate sentencing reforms by looking at the effects of structured sentencing on multiple aspects of the adjudication process in North Carolina. A further objective was to determine whether there were differences in the commission of institutional infractions between inmates sentenced to North Carolina prisons under the pre-structured versus structured sentencing laws. Researchers hoped that the results of this study may help North Carolina and jurisdictions around the country (1) anticipate the likely effects of structured sentencing laws, (2) design new laws that might better achieve the jurisdictions' goals, and (3) improve the potential of sentencing legislation in order to enhance public safety in an effective and equitable way. Administrative records data were collected from two sources. First, in order to examine the effects of structured sentencing on the adjudication process in North Carolina, criminal case data were obtained from the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (Parts 1 and 2). The pre-structured sentencing and structured sentencing samples were selected at the case level, and each record in Parts 1 and 2 represents a charged offense processed in either the North Carolina Superior or District Court. Second, inmate records data were collected from administrative records provided by the North Carolina Department of Correction (Part 3). These data were used to compare the involvement in infractions of inmates sentenced under both pre-structured and structured sentencing. The data for Part 3 focused on inmates entering the prison system between June 1, 1995, and January 31, 1998. Variables for Parts 1 and 2 include type of charge, charged offense date, method of disposition (e.g., dismissal, withdrawal, jury trial), defendant's plea, verdict for the offense, and whether the offense was processed through the North Carolina Superior or District Court. Structured sentencing offense class and modified Uniform Crime Reporting code for both charged and convicted offenses are presented for Parts 1 and 2. There are also county, prosecutorial district, and defendant episode identifiers in both parts. Variables related to defendant episodes include types of offenses within episode, total number of charges and convictions, whether all charges were dismissed, whether any felony charge resulted in a jury trial, and the adjudication time for all charges. Demographic variables for Parts 1 and 2 include the defendant's age, race, and gender. Part 3 variables include the date of prison admission, sentence type, number of prior incarcerations, number of years served during prior incarcerations, maximum sentence length for current incarceration, jail credit in years, count of all infractions during current and prior incarcerations, reason for incarceration, infraction rate, the risk for alcohol and drug dependency based on alcohol and chemical dependency screening scores, and the number of assault, drug/alcohol, profanity/disobedience, work absence, and money/property infractions during an inmate's current incarceration. Demographic variables for Part 3 include race, gender, and age at the time of each inmate's prison admission.

Access Notes

  • These data are freely available.

Dataset(s)

DS0:  Study-Level Files
Documentation:
DS1:  North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts Pre-Structured Sentencing Data - Download All Files (47,818 KB)
Data:
DS2:  North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts Structured Sentencing Data - Download All Files (50,344 KB)
Data:
DS3:  North Carolina Department of Correction Data - Download All Files (6,966 KB)

Study Description

Citation

Collins, James J., Donna L. Spencer, et al. EVALUATION OF NORTH CAROLINA'S 1994 STRUCTURED SENTENCING LAW, 1992-1998. ICPSR02891-v1. Research Triangle Park, NC: Research Triangle Institute/Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Department of Correction [producers], 1999. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2001. doi:10.3886/ICPSR02891.v1

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Export Citation:

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Funding

This study was funded by:

  • United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice (96-CE-VX-0013)

Scope of Study

Subject Terms:   criminal justice system, felony offenses, misdemeanor offenses, policies and procedures, punishment, sentencing, sentencing reforms

Geographic Coverage:   North Carolina, United States

Time Period:  

  • 1992--1998

Unit of Observation:   Parts 1 and 2: Criminally charged offenses processed in either the District or Superior Court. Part 3: Prison inmates.

Universe:   Part 1: Criminal offenders sentenced under North Carolina's pre-structured sentencing law. Part 2: Criminal offenders sentenced under North Carolina's structured sentencing law. Part 3: Inmates entering North Carolina's prison system between June 1, 1995, and January 31, 1998, sentenced under both pre-structured and structured sentencing laws.

Data Types:   administrative records data

Methodology

Study Purpose:   Over the past three decades, many major reforms have occurred in the United States concerning adjudication and sentencing policies and practices. While there have been various studies investigating the impacts of sentencing reform, the focus of these studies has been largely limited to topics such as compliance with changes, sentencing disparity, sentencing patterns, and the impacts on correctional populations. Research addressing the effects of sentencing reform on the criminal justice process itself was lacking. Effective October 1, 1994, the state of North Carolina implemented a new structured sentencing law that applied to all felony and misdemeanor crimes (except for driving while impaired) committed on or after October 1, 1994. The purposes of the new structured sentencing law were (1) to increase the effectiveness of the sanctioning process, (2) to improve consistency and fairness for offenders, (3) to promote truth in sentencing, and (4) to make more efficient use of the state's prosecution, adjudication, and correctional resources. Under the new structured sentencing law parole was eliminated, and a sentencing commission developed recommended ranges of punishment for offense and offender categories, set priorities for the use of correctional resources, and developed a model to estimate correctional populations. At the time of data collection for this study, the sentencing commission had tracked sentences and other aspects of structured sentencing, but had limited resources to study the effects of the new law on the criminal justice system. This study sought to investigate sentencing reforms by looking at the effects of structured sentencing on multiple aspects of the adjudication process in North Carolina. A further objective was to determine whether there were differences in the commission of institutional infractions between inmates sentenced to North Carolina prisons under the pre-structured versus structured sentencing laws. Researchers hoped that the results of this study may to help North Carolina and jurisdictions around the country (a) anticipate the likely effects of structured sentencing laws, (b) design new laws that might better achieve their individual intended goals, and (c) ultimately improve the potential of sentencing legislation in order to enhance public safety in an effective and equitable way.

Study Design:   Administrative records data were collected from two sources. First, pre-structured (Part 1) and structured (Part 2) samples were selected at the case level from criminal case data obtained from the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts. The pre-structured sample represents cases during the time prior to structured sentencing going into effect. The structured sample was used directly in examining the effects structured sentencing had on the adjudication process in North Carolina. Each record in Parts 1 and 2 represents a charged offense processed in either the North Carolina Superior or District Court. Because some offenses were processed at both the district and superior court levels, an individual offense could be represented by more than one record. To obtain an unduplicated count of offenses, researchers distinguished between "interim" and "noninterim" records for every offense. Interim records were defined as offense records that did not include a final disposition. For a superior court offense record, INTERIM=1 if the offense was remanded to district court or withdrawn from superior court. For a district court offense record, INTERIM=1 if the offense was bound or appealed to superior court (and was not remanded back to district court or withdrawn from superior court). Each record in Parts 1 and 2 carries a defendant identifier (DEFENDID) and a defendant episode identifier (DEFEPIID), which link together all charged offense records for a defendant or a defendant episode. Researchers conducted all of their analyses at this defendant episode level. To create defendant episodes, researchers linked together all charges for a defendant within a prosecutorial district, regardless of the case with which it was associated, for which the adjudication interval (dates from initial charged offense to disposition) overlapped. Under this scheme, some defendants had more than one defendant episode. If, for example, a defendant had multiple offenses charged and disposed within a six-week interval, and then had another group of offenses charged two months later, researchers considered each set of offenses as a separate defendant episode and analytic unit. The second source of administrative records data was the North Carolina Department of Correction inmate records (Part 3). These data were used to compare the involvement in infractions of inmates sentenced under both pre-structured and structured sentencing. These data focused on inmates entering the prison system between June 1, 1995, and January 31, 1998. Data for Part 3 include only those infractions that resulted in a conviction, so infractions not formally recognized and adjudicated by prison authorities were excluded from analyses. Inmates serving mixed sentences, life sentences and those incarcerated for drinking while intoxicated (DWI) were also excluded.

Sample:   The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) sampled their criminal case database and extracted cases based on one criterion, which required that each case have at least one criminal offense (certain traffic offenses, probation violations, and infractions were excluded) disposed during January-June 1994 and January-June 1996. Charged offense and disposition dates for offense records were later constrained to within the time period from October 1, 1992, through September 30, 1994, for Part 1 and from October 1, 1994, through September 30, 1996, for Part 2. For Part 3, inmates entering the prison system (whether a minimum or maximum security institution) between June 1, 1995, and January 31, 1998, were identified from the North Carolina Department of Correction inmate records.

Data Source:

administrative records

Description of Variables:   Variables for Parts 1 and 2 include type of charge, charged offense date, method of disposition (e.g., dismissal, withdrawal, jury trial), defendant's plea, verdict for the offense, and whether the offense was processed through the North Carolina Superior or District Court. Structured sentencing offense class and modified Uniform Crime Reporting code for both charged and convicted offenses are presented for Parts 1 and 2. There are also county, prosecutorial district, and defendant episode identifiers in both parts. Variables related to defendant episodes include types of offenses within episode, total number of charges and convictions, whether all charges were dismissed, whether any felony charge resulted in a jury trial, and the adjudication time for all charges. Demographic variables for Parts 1 and 2 include the defendant's age, race, and gender. Part 3 variables include the date of prison admission, sentence type, number of prior incarcerations, number of years served during prior incarcerations, maximum sentence length for current incarceration, jail credit in years, count of all infractions during current and prior incarcerations, reason for incarceration, infraction rate, the risk for alcohol and drug dependency based on alcohol and chemical dependency screening scores, and the number of assault, drug/alcohol, profanity/disobedience, work absence, and money/property infractions during an inmate's current incarceration. Demographic variables for Part 3 include race, gender, and age at the time of each inmate's prison admission.

Response Rates:   Not applicable

Presence of Common Scales:   None

Extent of Processing:  ICPSR data undergo a confidentiality review and are altered when necessary to limit the risk of disclosure. ICPSR also routinely creates ready-to-go data files along with setups in the major statistical software formats as well as standard codebooks to accompany the data. In addition to these procedures, ICPSR performed the following processing steps for this data collection:

  • Standardized missing values.
  • Checked for undocumented or out-of-range codes.

Version(s)

Original ICPSR Release:  

Version History:

  • 2006-03-30 File UG2891.ALL.PDF was removed from any previous datasets and flagged as a study-level file, so that it will accompany all downloads.
  • 2006-03-30 File CB2891.ALL.PDF was removed from any previous datasets and flagged as a study-level file, so that it will accompany all downloads.
  • 2005-11-04 On 2005-03-14 new files were added to one or more datasets. These files included additional setup files as well as one or more of the following: SAS program, SAS transport, SPSS portable, and Stata system files. The metadata record was revised 2005-11-04 to reflect these additions.

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