Ideology and Arithmetic: The Hidden Agenda of Sentencing Guidelines

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Five hypothetical reports were given to 8 conservative and 12 liberal (as determined by scores on a Likert-type scale) probation officers. Subjects then scored a felony sentencing worksheet and assessed the relative severity of several sentencing options. Analysis of data reveals that conservative officers scored the guidelines more severely than did liberal officers. This was true for both standard fictitious cases and for hypothetical reports that were composites of actual cases. This appeared to be the result of different interpretations of guideline categories which are ambiguous rather than the result of consciously discriminatory practices. Furthermore, offenders processed by conservative officers received significantly harsher sentences than did offenders processed by liberal officers. Suggestions for removing sources of ambiguity in the guideline are offered.

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