The goals of the Robina Institute’s Criminal History Enhancements Project are to study the widely varying criminal history enhancement formulas found in U.S. sentencing guidelines systems, and encourage each system to examine its use of criminal history to determine whether it is operating in a just and cost-effective manner.
An offender’s criminal history (record of prior convictions) is a major sentencing factor in all American jurisdictions that have implemented sentencing guidelines — offenders in the highest criminal history category often have recommended prison sentences that are many times longer than the recommended sentences for offenders in the lowest category. Criminal history sentence enhancements thus substantially increase the size and expense of prison populations. And since offenders with higher criminal history scores tend to be older, the result is often to fill expensive prison beds with offenders who are past their peak offending years. Such enhancements also have a strong disparate impact on racial and ethnic minorities, undercut the goal of making sentence severity proportional to offense severity, and send many nonviolent offenders to prison.