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Sentencing Practices and Time Served in the District of Columbia Prior to Truth in Sentencing, 1993-1998 (ICPSR 3403) RSS

Principal Investigator(s):

Summary:

This study collected data on felony sentencing practices in the District of Columbia during the period 1993 to 1998. Data are provided on (1) the characteristics of felons sentenced by the District of Columbia Superior Court (DCSC), (2) the types, lengths, and variations of sentences imposed, (3) the length of time served in prison by those committed into the DC Department of Corrections (DCDOC), and (4) parole release decisions. And the study also attempted to assess the potential effects of new sentencing practices implemented in response to the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997 and the Truth in Sentencing Amendment Act of 1998. Data were obtained from several DC criminal justice agencies, including DC Superior Court, the Pretrial Services Agency, the DC Department of Corrections, and the DC Parole Commission. The records of individual defendants were linked across these databases to the extent possible, and an integrated database on felony case processing in the District was created in order to use the unique information from each system to create defendant-level or person-level records that contained more information about cases than could be obtained from any one system. The process also involved linking records within an agency's data system for the purposes of obtaining the history of contacts with an agency or for the purpose of aggregating charge-level information into summary data for a docket or commitment. The final database consists of three files. Part 1 (Felony Docket Data) includes sentencing information on all felony dockets sentenced in DCSC between January 1993 and December 1998. Part 2 (Commitments Data) includes sentencing and time served information on all offenders who were committed to the DCDOC between January 1990 and December 1998. Part 3 (Decisions Data) includes all decisions made by the parole board on all types of considerations between January 1993 and December 1998. Part 1 variables provide defendant demographic characteristics (including age, race, and sex), offense type codes (for the defendant's most serious offense), type of sentence (prison only, probation only, split, or fine) and the sentence imposed (including whether the defendant was sentenced to life). During the period under study, the District of Columbia followed an indeterminate sentencing system, and so the data file includes minimum and maximum periods where applicable (for example, confinement). The data include information pertaining to the most serious offense at conviction as well as aggregated sentence information on all felony charges on a docket (in case there were multiple charges). Part 2 variables include dates (of disposition, charging, and release), type of release from the DCDOC within that time period (including transfer to the Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities, release on parole, release upon completion of imposed term, transfer to escape status, and whether the offender had not yet been released by December 1998), in-prison parole hearing/decision information (including number of initial hearings, number of decisions, number of grants, and whether a parole release decision was granted at the initial hearing while on this commitment), prior criminal history (including number of prior prison sentences and the number of prior drug, violent, weapon, and property convictions in the last 15 years), current commitment sentencing information (including number of felony, misdemeanor, or split charges, most serious charge of conviction, and the sentence imposed on the most serious charge as well as the aggregate sentencing imposed on all charges of conviction), and the time served by the offender prior to release (with and without the amount of credit given for jail time prior to conviction). This file also identifies several problem flags that need to be taken into account before analyzing the data in order to select out problem cases (with data entry or computation errors). Part 3 variables include the date (year, month) of the hearing, up to four considerations being decided on, up to six decisions that were made for these considerations, six flags indicating the types of considerations that were included in the hearing, and two flags indicating the types of decisions that were included in the current hearing.

Access Notes

  • These data are freely available.

Dataset(s)

DS0:  Study-Level Files
Documentation:
DS1:  Felony Docket Data - Download All Files (17.5 MB)
DS2:  Commitments Data - Download All Files (22.6 MB)
DS3:  Decisions Data - Download All Files (23.1 MB)

Study Description

Citation

Sabol, William J., and James P. Lynch. SENTENCING PRACTICES AND TIME SERVED IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PRIOR TO TRUTH IN SENTENCING, 1993-1998. ICPSR version. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute [producer], 2002. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2002. http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR03403.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 (98-CE-VX-0006)

Scope of Study

Subject Terms:   case processing, felony offenses, offenders, parole, parole services, pretrial procedures, sentencing, sentencing guidelines, sentencing reform

Geographic Coverage:   District of Columbia, United States

Date of Collection:  

  • 1999-03--1999-05

Unit of Observation:   Part 1: Defendant/case. Part 2: Commitment into prison. Part 3: Parole hearing.

Universe:   All felony defendants sentenced in Washington, DC, courts from 1993 to 1998.

Data Types:   administrative records data

Data Collection Notes:

(1) In Part 2 the time served on a commitment may not be comparable with the sentence that was imposed on the current commitment. This is because the offender may have been on parole at the time he/she began a new commitment so that the total time served in prison may exceed the time the defendant was sentenced to serve. Similarly, the defendant may have previously been placed on an escape status and may hence be serving the remainder of an existing sentence in addition to the currently imposed sanctions. In order to best approximate these effects, two dummy variables are provided in the dataset. BACKUP is a dummy variable indicating that the defendant owed some backup time prior to entering DCDOC on this commitment, while ESCAPE indicates that the prisoner had escaped prior to this commitment. (2) The user guide, codebook, and data collection instruments are provided by ICPSR as Portable Document Format (PDF) files. The PDF file format was developed by Adobe Systems Incorporated and can be accessed using PDF reader software, such as the Adobe Acrobat Reader. Information on how to obtain a copy of the Acrobat Reader is provided on the ICPSR Web site.

Methodology

Study Purpose:   This study collected data on felony sentencing practices in the District of Columbia during the period 1993 to 1998. Data are provided on (1) the characteristics of felons sentenced by the District of Columbia Superior Court (DCSC), (2) the types, lengths, and variations of sentences imposed, (3) the length of stay served in prison by those committed into the DC Department of Corrections (DCDOC), and (4) parole release decisions. And the study also attempted to assess the potential effects of new sentencing practices implemented in response to the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997. To begin implementation of the new law, the Revitalization Act established the District of Columbia Truth in Sentencing Commission and directed it to make recommendations to the Council of the District of Columbia for amendments to the District of Columbia Code with respect to the sentences to be imposed for felonies committed on or after August 5, 2000. The principal effect of these changes was to convert the District's sentencing system for all subsection (h) felonies from an indeterminate system of minimum and maximum prison terms, with parole, to a determinate system with a single prison term imposed, at least 85 percent of which the defendant would be required to serve. In response to this mandate, the Council enacted the Advisory Commission on Sentencing Establishment Act of 1998, establishing the District of Columbia Advisory Commission on Sentencing (DCACS) and delineating its role. The DCACS was assigned to conduct a comprehensive study of criminal sentencing practices in the District of Columbia, specifically addressing the following matters: (1) the length of sentences imposed, (2) the length of sentences served, (3) the proportion of offenders released upon their first parole eligibility date, and (4) an assessment of the impact on sentence length and sentencing disparities likely to result from the implementation of DC Law 12-165, the Truth in Sentencing Amendment Act of 1998. As part of this effort, the Urban Institute constructed a database of felony case processing in the District during the 1993 to 1998 period.

Study Design:   The Urban Institute's (UI) data collection and analysis were designed in part to assist the DCACS in meeting their requirements to report on sentencing practices to the District of Columbia Council. Specifically, the DCACS was required to report on sentence lengths, time served, and parole releases in a September 30, 1999, report, and to make recommendations about the new sentencing law in an April 2000 report. Beginning in late February of 1999, the UI staff met with officials from the DC Superior Court (DCSC), the Pretrial Services Agency (PSA), the DC Department of Corrections (DCDOC), and the District of Columbia Board of Parole to request and learn about their data systems. During March, April, and May of 1999, these agencies submitted extracts of their data. For each agency except the DCDOC, several extracts were submitted to provide complete data. Eventually, the DCSC, PSA, and DCDOC provided data extracts covering defendants in felony cases from 1978 to 1998, and the DC parole data extract covered parole decisions from about 1990 (when their electronic database was developed) through 1998. Agency staff were helpful in explaining their data systems, although written documentation about the data was relatively sparse. Upon receipt of source data, UI staff reviewed and analyzed data for completeness. In some cases, these preliminary reviews resulted in UI requesting additional or different extracts of data. The UI staff met with the DCACS several times to address key definitional issues, such as (1) selecting a most serious offense, (2) offense classification methods, and (3) measuring time served. The resulting database consists of three files. Part 1 (Felony Docket Data) includes sentencing information on all felony dockets sentenced in DCSC between January 1993 and December 1998. Part 2 (Commitments Data) includes sentencing and time served information for all offenders who were committed to the DCDOC between January 1990 and December 1998. Part 3 (Decisions Data) includes all decisions made by the parole board on all types of considerations between January 1993 and December 1998.

Data Source:

Data were collected from the DC Superior Court (DCSC), the Pretrial Services Agency (PSA), the DC Department of Corrections (DCDOC), and the DC Board of Parole.

Description of Variables:   Part 1 variables provide defendant demographic characteristics (including age, race, and sex), offense type codes (for the defendant's most serious offense), type of sentence (prison only, probation only, split, or fine) and the sentence imposed (including whether the defendant was sentenced to life). During the period under study, the District of Columbia followed an indeterminate sentencing system, and so the data file includes minimum and maximum periods where applicable (for example, confinement). The data include information pertaining to the most serious offense at conviction as well as aggregated sentence information on all felony charges on a docket (in case there were multiple charges). Part 2 variables include dates (of disposition, charging, and release), type of release from the DCDOC within that time period (including transfer to the Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities, release on parole, release upon completion of imposed term, transfer to escape status, and whether the offender had not yet been released by December 1998), in-prison parole hearing/decision information (including number of initial hearings, number of decisions, number of grants, and whether a parole release decision was granted at the initial hearing while on this commitment), prior criminal history (including number of prior prison sentences and the number of prior drug, violent, weapon, and property convictions in the last 15 years), current commitment sentencing information (including number of felony, misdemeanor, or split charges, most serious charge of conviction, and the sentence imposed on the most serious charge as well as the aggregate sentencing imposed on all charges of conviction), and the time served by the offender prior to release (with and without the amount of credit given for jail time prior to conviction). This file also identifies several problem flags that need to be taken into account before analyzing the data in order to select out problem cases (with data entry or computation errors). Part 3 variables include the date (year, month) of the hearing, up to four considerations being decided on, up to six decisions that were made for these considerations, six flags indicating the types of considerations that were included in the hearing, and two flags indicating the types of decisions that were included in the current hearing.

Response Rates:   Not applicable.

Presence of Common Scales:   None.

Version(s)

Original ICPSR Release:  

Version History:

  • 2006-03-30 File UG3403.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 CB3403.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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