Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice


Robina Annual Conference

Reversing Mass Punishment in America

9:00am to 4:45pm McNamara Alumni Center, University of Minnesota

Thank you to all who attended our 2017 Annual Conference, “Reversing Mass Punishment in America,” on Friday, December 8, 2017, with keynote speaker Professor James Forman, Jr. (Yale Law School), author of Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, at the McNamara Alumni Center, University of Minnesota. Videos and photos of the event will be available soon.

Conference Description

While the United States is the undisputed leader of incarceration rates worldwide, little attention has been paid to other forms of punishment in which America has become a leader including community supervision, revocations from supervision to prison, economic penalties, and collateral consequences of conviction. As an example, the Robina Institute’s comparative research of probation rates between American states and European countries finds that, on average, U.S. probation rates are as much as five times higher than that of Europe. Thus, the issue in America is one of mass punishment, not just mass incarceration.

Since 2011, the Robina Institute has conducted original research in sentencing law and policy that examines this trend toward mass punishment. Our work has focused on studying probation and parole practices and revocations across the United States— in both rural and urban communities; researching and publishing information about the impacts of criminal history enhancements; and providing a unique, online resource that gives an in-depth look at state and federal sentencing guidelines systems. The conference examined some of the issues that contribute to mass punishment and discuss ways in which we can reverse this alarming trend and also reduce racial disproportionality.

CLE Credit

4.25 Standard and 2 Elimination of Bias CLE credits have been requested for this event. The event code is #250328.


8:00 a.m.

Check-In and Breakfast (McNamara Alumni Center, Memorial Hall)

Conference Agenda

9:00 a.m.


Justice Kathleen Blatz, former Chief Justice, Minnesota Supreme Court; Chair, Robina Foundation

9:05 a.m.

Conference Introduction: Professor Richard S. Frase (University of Minnesota Law School)

9:15-10:05 a.m.

Keynote Address-- Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America

Professor James Forman, Jr. (Yale Law School)


Marion Barry, Maxine Waters, Eric Holder, and Johnnie Cochran are not names you would associate with the staggering incarceration rates plaguing black and minority communities across the country. Yet, as James Forman, Jr. writes in his critically-acclaimed new book, Locking Up Our Own, it's undeniable that the urgency and good-intentioned politics of black leaders in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, as they sought to reduce crime and curb out-of-control drug addiction, has unspooled now, decades later, into a devastating tally of young men whose lives have been lost to the penal system. Weaving data and history with human stories, Forman’s book builds on his work as a public defender in Washington, D.C., a founder of a charter school for incarcerated teens, and a law professor. 


This keynote address— and Professor Forman's book—will challenge the conference audience to think about ways they can contribute to change in our current criminal justice system.


View Video

10:05-10:15 a.m.


10:15-11-15 a.m.

Plenary: American Exceptionalism in Mass Punishment

Professor Kevin R. Reitz (University of Minnesota Law School)


In the mid- and late twentieth century, the United States diverged markedly from other Western nations first in its high rates of serious violent crime and soon after in the severity of its criminal punishments. This has left a legacy of American exceptionalism in crime and punishment for the new century. It is well known that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world with a nationwide rate seven times the Western European average. Less well known, U.S. probation and parole supervision rates now stand at 5-to-10 times the European average. Moreover, economic sanctions have expanded in many American jurisdictions, and are increasingly used as revenue sources for local governments, courts, and criminal justice agencies. These uses of economic penalties are not replicated in other advanced democracies. Finally, all states and the federal government have adopted hundreds of civil disabilities that are applied to ex-offenders, called “collateral consequences of conviction.” Once again, the breadth and weight of these civil measures appear to be unique to America.


Since the early 2000s, the term “mass incarceration” has gained wide circulation in the U.S. It is more realistic to see “mass punishment” as a uniquely American phenomenon.


View Video

11:15-12:15 a.m.

Plenary: Racial Disproportionality in Punishment

Professor Richard S. Frase (University of Minnesota Law School)
Hon. Pamela Alexander (4th Judicial District, Hennepin County, MN)
Dr. Ashley Nellis (The Sentencing Project)


African American and Native American offenders are incarcerated at much higher rates than white offenders.  Racial disproportionality is evident at all stages of criminal justice processing, beginning with arrest, and in many systems it grows worse at each successive stage of processing.  One major contributor to disparity increases at the point of sentencing is penalty enhancement based on the offender’s prior conviction record; since African American and Native American offenders tend to have higher criminal history scores, these sentence enhancements have a very substantial disparate impact, greatly contributing to the problem of disproportionate minority confinement. Some criminal laws also have disparate impacts on minority offenders. This session will discuss research on racial disparity and disparate impacts in criminal justice, and examine ways to mitigate these impacts.


View Video

12:15-1:15 p.m.

Lunch (Professor Forman’s and Professor Reitz’s respective books will be for sale over the lunch break. Professor Forman will sign books at the end of the conference)

1:15-2:15 p.m.

Break-Out Session 1

  1. Sentencing Guidelines Systems: Leading the Way with the Minnesota Model
    Kelly Mitchell (University of Minnesota Law School)
    Bennet Wright, Executive Director, Alabama Sentencing Commission 
    Scott Schultz, Executive Director, Kansas Sentencing Guidelines Commission
    Minnesota was the first state to enact sentencing guidelines in 1980.  Since then, multiple states, the federal government, and Washington, D.C. have followed suit.  But just as no state or jurisdiction is the same, no two sets of the sentencing guidelines are the same.  Some are mandatory, requiring adherence, whereas others are advisory, representing a mere starting point for the court.  Some are enforced by appeal; others are not.  And the rules that make up the core of sentencing guidelines – e.g., how the criminal history score is calculated, availability of departures, whether consecutive sentencing is permitted – vary substantially from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  This session will cover some of the major features of sentencing guidelines systems in the U.S. and will demonstrate that although Minnesota’s system continues to be the model to be emulated, the model could be improved even further.
    Room: Ski-U-Mah
    View Video
  2. Public Attitudes to Sentencing and Mass Imprisonment
    Julian Roberts (Oxford University)

    Professor Loretta Stalans (Loyola University)
    Public opinion has been one of the drivers of mass imprisonment in the US, and of punitive sentencing generally in other countries. It is likely that Life without Parole (LWOP) sentences or ‘Three strikes’ sentencing laws would not have proliferated without widespread public support. Yet there is now evidence that the public mood is changing. Recent research and surveys have demonstrated strong support for a less punitive approach to punishing offenders. This seminar will highlight the latest findings in the area, and discuss the growing gap between the mass use of imprisonment and public opinion in the US. We pay particular attention to racial differences in attitudes to sentencing and the use of imprisonment.
    Room: Johnson Great Hall
    View Video

2:15-2:20 p.m.


2:20-3:20 p.m.

Break-Out Session 2

  1. Criminal History and Recidivism Risk: A Multi-Jurisdictional Comparison

    Rhys Hester (Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission)
    Julia Laskorunksy (University of Minnesota Law School)
    Tracey Kyckelhahn (U.S. Sentencing Commission)


    In many guidelines jurisdictions, criminal history enhancements are partially or primarily employed as proxies for risk prevention. But to date, the question of whether these scores are actually valid predictors of risk has been under-explored. With the exception of the federal guidelines, it appears that most criminal history scores were not empirically generated as recidivism predictors, so it is possible that some guidelines criminal history scores increase punishment for factors that are not related to recidivism. This panel explores three efforts to empirically analyze the risk prediction value of guidelines criminal history scores.
    Room: Johnson Great Hall
    View Video

  2. Determinate Prison Release and Mass Punishment
    Professor Kevin Reitz (University of Minnesota Law School)

    Edward Rhine (Parole Release and Revocation Project Director, Robina Institute)
    Alexis Watts (University of Minnesota Law School)
    The process of inmate release from prison is crucial to how mass punishment functions in each U.S. jurisdiction.  While the Robina Institute’s past parole research has focused on states with discretionary parole release (“indeterminate” systems), much of our 2017 research explores release in parole abolitionist jurisdictions (“determinate” systems) like Minnesota. Research has revealed unexpected amount of variation among non-parole states in their release approach and in other correctional practices. With a better understanding of how each of the systems operate, we can now ask whether a “model” determinate sentencing state like Minnesota has lessons to learn from other approaches. We can also make an informed evaluation of the real-world results of determinate sentencing philosophies, and in particular assess their effect on mass punishment.
    Room: Ski-U-Mah
    View Video

3:20-3:30 p.m.


3:30-4:30 p.m.

Plenary: Community Supervision and Mass Punishment

Dr. Gregory Dillon (Dallas County Probation, Texas)
Associate Professor Cecelia Klingele (University of Wisconsin Law School)
Assistant Professor Ebony Ruhland (University of Cincinnati School of Criminal Justice)
Hon. George Stephenson (2nd Judicial District, Ramsey County, MN)


In the United States, the number of people on community supervision (probation) is growing higher and higher each year. The Robina Institute's Probation Revocation Project conducted research in rural and urban jurisdictions across the country to examine various issues related to community supervision. We found a range of policies and procedures and perspectives. Many individuals are required to comply with a high number of conditions in order to be successful on supervision and eventually released. If they fail to comply with these conditions, they could face the risk of violating the terms of their supervision, which could lead to a revocation of their probation or supervision and a sentence in jail or prison.

This panel will discuss the implications of what it means to have a large number of conditions, as well as how the length of terms of some sentences could be potential contributors to the rise in mass punishment practices in the U.S. We will examine opposing perspectives: from the point of view that suggests that there are too many conditions and that terms are too long which could set individuals up for failure, and from the perspective that these conditions are necessary and the length of terms are adequate or should be longer to rehabilitate individuals and increase public safety.

View Video 

4:30-4:45 p.m.

Wrap-Up: Reversing Mass Punishment in America

4:45-5:15 p.m.

James Forman, Jr. Book signing (Memorial Hall)

4:45-6:30 p.m.

Conference Reception (Memorial Hall)

Speakers & Moderators

  • Hon. Pamela Alexander Hon. Pamela Alexander

    Judge, Fourth Judicial District Court

  • Kathleen Blatz Kathleen A. Blatz

    Former Chief Justice, Minnesota Supreme Court; Chair, Robina Foundation

  • Gregory Dillon Dr. Gregory Dillon

    Deputy Director, Dallas County Community Supervision and Corrections Department

  • Richard S. Frase Professor Richard Frase

    Co-Director, Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice

  • James Forman Jr. James Forman Jr.

    Professor of Law and Yale Law School

  • Rhys Hester Dr. Rhys Hester

    Deputy Director of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing

  • Tracey Kyckelhahn Dr. Tracey Kyckelhahn

    Senior Research Associate, United States Sentencing Commission

  • Julia Laskorunsky Dr. Julia Laskorunsky

    Post-Doctoral Research Fellow

  • Ashley Nellis Dr. Ashley Nellis

    Senior Research Analyst

  • Kevin R. Reitz Professor Kevin R. Reitz

    Co-Director, Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice

  • Edward Rhine Dr. Edward Rhine

    Project Director, Parole Release and Revocation

  • Julian Roberts Professor Julian Roberts

    Co-Director, Criminal History Enhancements

  • Ebony Ruhland Assistant Professor Ebony Ruhland

    Assistant Professor of Criminology

  • Scott Schultz Scott Schultz

    Executive Director, Kansas Sentencing Commission

  • Loretta Stalans Professor Loretta Stalans

    Professor at Loyola University

  • Judge George T. Stephenson Hon. George Stephenson
  • Alexis Watts Alexis Watts

    Research Attorney

  • Bennet Wright Bennet Wright

    Executive Director of the Alabama Sentencing Commission; President of the National Association of Sentencing Commissions

Directions and Amenities


If you have additional questions please email us at or call (612) 626-6600.