Federal judge talks sentencing guidelines
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent August 8, 2012 4:04PM
Updated: September 10, 2012 1:40PM
CROWN POINT — More people than ever are spending time behind bars and federally mandated sentencing guidelines help put them there.
U.S. District Judge Joseph Van Bokkelen shared insights on how criminals are sentenced and the role sentencing guidelines play in attempting to create nationwide uniformity in how those sentences are carried out.
“It’s a very complicated issue,” Van Bokkelen said.
The sentencing guidelines handed out to judges, an almost 2-inch thick book, use a formula to help determine how long a criminal must serve. The formula awards points to issues including the nature of the crime, prior criminal record, cooperation of the criminal and other items to determine a range of time to which a judge may sentence someone.
While the guidelines are nationwide, a certain amount of disparity still exists depending on matters like where the crime occurred and extenuating circumstances like prison overcrowding. Rural communities tend to gravitate toward the higher end of the sentencing spectrum while urban areas tend to sentence on the lower end of the guidelines.
“It’s societal,” Van Bokkelen said, adding in his opinion the guidelines fall a little on the high side and result in more criminals spending time behind bars for lesser crimes in the U.S. than in any other country.
Still the guidelines represent a place for judges to start when they are confronted with the issue of sending someone to jail.
“You still need a starting point, somebody to tell you where to begin,” Van Bokkelen said.