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date: 28 January 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This essay evaluates the origins, purposes, operation, and evolution of Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines system, implemented in 1980. Topics examined include key guidelines provisions, related statutes, charging and sentencing practices, departure rates, interpretive case law, and correctional populations. The essay concludes that the goals of this pioneering sentencing reform have largely been achieved: punishments have become more uniform and proportionate; policy formulation is more comprehensive and informed by data; sentencing has been coordinated with available correctional resources to avoid prison overcrowding and set priorities in the use of prison beds; there is a greater degree of “truth in sentencing;” prison sentences are used relatively sparingly; and the guidelines remain fairly simple to understand and apply. Minnesota has also achieved a sustainable balance between conflicting sentencing purposes, between uniformity versus flexibility, and in the powers of the sentencing commission, the legislature, courts, and practitioners to control sentencing policy and case outcomes.

Keywords: sentencing guidelines, sentencing reform, sentencing commission, sentencing purposes, sentencing practices, punishment, correctional populations, correctional resources, prison overcrowding, truth in sentencing

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