The Federal Sentencing Guidelines: Psychological and Policy Reasons for Simplification

R. Barry Ruback, Jonathan Wroblewski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The federal sentencing guidelines are the most controversial and most complex of all the sentencing reform efforts. The undue complexity of the federal guidelines, and the continuing pressures for change that add to complexity, undermine the goals of sentencing reform. Based on policy grounds and on psychological theory and research, sentencing should be structured through the use of sentencing guidelines, which need to be both simple and comprehensible. The federal guidelines should be based on a 2-step process, in which (a) the broad outline of sentences is determined by the offense of conviction and (b) judges can consider, within well-defined limits, the aggravating and mitigating factors of a case using relevant conduct.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)739-775
Number of pages37
JournalPsychology, Public Policy, and Law
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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