August 12, 2019
Suggested Citation: Richard S. Frase and Julian V. Roberts, Paying for the Past: The Case Against Prior Record Sentence Enhancements (2019).
Paying for the Past: The Case Against Prior Record Sentence Enhancements can be purchased here.
All modern sentencing systems, in the US and beyond, consider the offender's prior record to be an important determinant of the form and severity of punishment for subsequent offences. Repeat offenders receive harsher punishments than first offenders, and offenders with longer criminal records are punished more severely than those with shorter records. Yet the vast literature on sentencing policy, law, and practice has generally overlooked the issue of prior convictions, even though this is the most important sentencing factor after the seriousness of the crime.
In Paying for the Past, Richard S. Frase and Julian V. Roberts provide a critical and systematic examination of current prior record enhancements under sentencing guidelines across the US. Drawing on empirical data and analyses of guidelines from a number of jurisdictions, they illustrate different approaches to prior record enhancements and the differing outcomes of those approaches. Frase and Roberts demonstrate that most prior record enhancements generate a range of adverse outcomes at sentencing. Further, the pervasive justifications for prior record enhancement, such as the repeat offender's assumed higher risk of reoffending or greater culpability, are uncertain and have rarely been subjected to critical appraisal. The punitive sentencing premiums for repeat offenders prescribed by US guidelines cannot be justified on grounds of prevention or retribution.
Shining a light on a neglected but critically important topic, Paying for the Past examines the costs of prior record enhancements for repeat offenders and offers model guidelines to help reduce racial disparities and reallocate criminal justice resources for jurisdictions who use sentence enhancements.