Panel Paper: Austerity v. Severity: The Increasing Magnitude of Monetary Sanctions In the Era of Budget Constraints

Thursday, November 8, 2012 : 10:15 AM
Preston (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Karin Martin, Univ. California, Berkeley

Monetary sanctions (fines and restitution assessed to felony offenders) have enormous potential to undermine equity and efficiency in the criminal justice system. This is particularly true in the context of on-going budget shortfalls that place severe and increasing pressure on all levels of government to maximize revenue. To identify the extent of this risk, this study exploits the massive shift in federal sentencing policy brought about by the Supreme Court case, United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), which rendered the federal sentencing guidelines advisory rather than mandatory. Using a matching algorithm to reduce imbalance in the covariates of pre- and post-Booker cases, this study finds that there is indeed an overall shift toward more punitive sanctions and that the effect is largest for monetary sanctions. Specifically the average prison sentence increased for all offenders, but more so for Black, Latino, or male offenders. In contrast, while average monetary sanctions also increased for all offenders, White or female offenders received substantially larger monetary sanctions. In addition to clarifying the status quo and providing a basis for future policy adjustments, this study has three major implications for sentencing policy under budget constraints. First, it highlights the need for research on sentencing policy to consider the total sanction: prison + monetary sanction. Second, this study suggests that the effect of extralegal factors warrants close scrutiny, since race and gender affect the exchange of monetary sanctions for prison time. Third, it raises normative questions for sentencing policy that permits revenue generation from individuals simultaneously being deprived of their liberty.