Impact of State Sentencing Policies on Incarceration Rates in the United States, 1975-2002 (ICPSR 4456)

Published: Sep 27, 2007

Principal Investigator(s):
Don Stemen, Vera Institute of Justice

https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR04456.v1

Version V1

In order to assess the impacts of state-level sentencing and corrections policies in the United States implemented between 1975 and 2002 on state incarceration rates during that same time period, researchers conducted a two-phase study between November 2002 and March 2004. The first phase of the research involved building a framework for understanding the types of state-level sentencing and corrections policies in use between 1975 and 2002. Phase two of the project consisted of state-level data collection for all 50 states for all study years, 1975 to 2002. The researchers produced a dataset containing outcome variables that focus on the change and growth in state incarceration rates, non-policy control variables that were found in previous studies to be associated with changes in incarceration rates, and policy variables regarding sentencing structure, drug policy, time served requirements, habitual offender laws (HOL), and mandatory sentences.

Stemen, Don. Impact of State Sentencing Policies on Incarceration Rates in the United States, 1975-2002. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2007-09-27. https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR04456.v1

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United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice (2002-IJ-CX-0027)

state

1975 -- 2002

2002-11 -- 2004-03

The purpose of this project was to assess the impacts of state-level sentencing and corrections policies in the United States implemented between 1975 and 2002 on state incarceration rates during that same time period. Specifically, researchers sought to better understand major characteristics of state sentencing systems including indeterminate/determinate sentencing structures, sentencing guidelines and sentencing commissions, sentences for drug offenses, truth-in-sentencing laws, habitual offender laws, mandatory sentencing laws, and "good time" sentence reduction policies as well as the complex, internal characteristics of each policy, which vary across states and over time. The ultimate goal was to produce an historical overview of the types of policies adopted over the last 30 years, the timing of adoption of each policy in each state, and the way each policy differs across states over time.

The study consisted of two phases completed between November 2002 and March 2004. The first phase of the research involved building a framework for understanding the types of state-level sentencing and corrections policies in use between 1975 and 2002. To do this, researchers reviewed prior analyses of policies to construct an initial outline of policies or general areas and their characteristics. Next, members of the Vera Institute of Justice's National Associates Program on State Sentencing and Corrections (SSC) reviewed the outline, suggested minor changes in the characteristics detailed, and constructed an initial data collection instrument (DCI). This initial DCI microdatabase was pilot-tested by collecting data on three states, refined, and then a finalized version of the DCI was developed for use in the second stage of the study. Phase two of the project consisted of state-level data collection for all 50 states for all study years, 1975 to 2002. The year 1975 was chosen as the cut-off year since, according to most criminologists and practitioners, most of the dramatic changes in state-level sentencing and corrections policies have occurred post-1975. The principal investigators and six research assistants began by analyzing microfiche versions of state codes as amended in 1975. Microfiche versions of superseded state codes (including supplements) and state sessions laws were then used to collect data on changes to each state's code for each year between 1975 and 2002. Data collection generally involved reading the entire criminal law and criminal procedure sections of each state's 1975 code, locating the relevant policy, and recording information about the provisions of the policy into the DCI. Annual code supplements were then analyzed to note changes to each state's code. When a revised version of the entire code was published, data collection then involved reviewing the entire criminal law and criminal procedure sections of each state's code again. Where changes to policies were unclear from annual supplements, microfiche versions of state sessions laws were consulted, which provided the actual legislation altering the code. This process continued until data collection reached 2002, and analysis turned to the bound versions of state codes as amended in 2002.

Not applicable

Sentencing and corrections policies in all 50 states in the United States from 1975 to 2002

States by year

All data collection occurred using the bound versions of state codes and microfiche versions of state codes and sessions laws archived at New York University School of Law. To ensure the inclusion of all relevant data, secondary sources, such as law review articles, reports by state-level professional legal organizations, and state reports, were reviewed at the completion of each state-level coding. Users are referred to the final report record abstracts for a detailed description of data sources for the outcome and control variables.

census/enumeration data, aggregate data, and survey data

record abstracts

The dataset contains outcome variables, control variables, and policy variables. The outcome variables pertain to the change and growth in state-level incarceration rates between 1975 and 2002. Control variables include violent crime rate, property crime rate, percent population between ages of 18-24, percent population between ages of 25-34, percent population African American, percent population of Hispanic origin, percent population living in urban areas, percent adherents to "fundamentalist" religion, income per capita, unemployment rate, percent population below poverty level, GINI income distribution coefficient, state revenues per 100,000 residents, public welfare per 100,000 residents, police officers per 100,000 residents, drug arrest rate, corrections expenditures per 100,000 residents, citizen political ideology, government political ideology, governor's party affiliation, and region. Policy variables capture information regarding sentencing structure, drug policy, time served requirements, habitual offender laws (HOL), and mandatory sentences. Specifically, sentencing structure variables include information on determinate sentencing, structured sentencing, presumptive sentencing guidelines, voluntary sentencing guidelines, and presumptive sentencing. Drug policy variables include sentencing enhancement score (cocaine, heroin, and marijuana), severity levels for possession and sale (cocaine, heroin, and marijuana), minimum sentence for 28 grams of cocaine (sale), maximum sentence for the lowest quantity of cocaine (possession), minimum sentence for 28 grams of heroin (sale), maximum sentence for the lowest quantity of heroin (possession), minimum sentence for 500 grams of marijuana (sale), and minimum sentence for the lowest quantity of marijuana (possession). Variables regarding time served requirements include both time served (all offenses) and time served (violent offenses). The habitual offender laws variables capture information regarding the two-strikes law, three-strikes law, HOL targeted for violent offenses, and HOL targeted for drug offenses. Lastly, variables pertaining to mandatory sentences include number of mandatory minimums for weapons use, number of mandatory minimums for violent offenses, number of mandatory minimums for offenses against protected individuals, number of mandatory minimums for offenses committed while in state custody, and mandatory score.

Not applicable

None

2007-09-27

2007-09-27

2007-09-27 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.

Notes

  • The public-use data files in this collection are available for access by the general public. Access does not require affiliation with an ICPSR member institution.

NACJD logo

This dataset is maintained and distributed by the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data (NACJD), the criminal justice archive within ICPSR. NACJD is primarily sponsored by three agencies within the U.S. Department of Justice: the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.