The Individualized Sentencing Approach: A Response to Court Builders

From Coordinator of Court Operations Elizabeth Taylor

Court Builders is an electronic forum which is frequented by planners of Community Courts. Recently, a Philadelphia court coordinator posted this question: “How can you influence an individualized approach to community service sentencing?” Specifically, his community court has fallen into the practice of recommending 24 hours (four days) of community service to all program participants, regardless of case specifics. The writer requested information on how other Community Courts have addressed individualized sentencing practices and guidelines. Here is Bronx Community Solutions’ response to his query...

In the Bronx Criminal Court, we have the unique option of being able to take into account the multitude of issues that effect offenders. After assessing that information, we’re able to weigh in and recommend a sentence we feel is appropriate. While working in collaboration with court players, our resource coordinators use electronic rap sheets and the Bronx Community Solutions database before recommending the appropriate number of community service days. Although the average mandate is four community service days (which equates to 24 hours), our resource coordinators, judges and court players do not hesitate to use the available range of community service days to hold offenders accountable for their crimes. In the Bronx, it is not unusual to see sentences of between 10 and 15 days of community service.

Bronx Community Solutions interfaces with over 40 judges, as well as hundreds of Assistant District Attorneys and Defense Attorneys. To keep our recommendations consistent, Bronx Community Solutions developed an escalating tier system that helps resource coordinators and court players determine appropriate and individualized sentencing recommendations:

•Tier 1 ranges from one to three days of community service and is typically used for defendants with no previous Bronx Community Solutions mandates, zero or minimal system contacts, and for offenders whose last arrest was over five years ago.

•Tier 2 ranges from four to seven days of community service and is typically used as an escalation after one previously completed Bronx Community Solution mandate,for an offender who had a recent arrest with no jail disposition (a fine, straight conditional discharge, time served etc), and/or for offenders with minimal system contact(determined by the volume and going rates of the Bronx arrests and outcomes).

•Tier 3 ranges from eight to ten days of community service and is reserved for more serious defendants (with a probation or parole history) who have previously completed Bronx Community Solutions mandates, have had extensive contact with the system, and/or offenders whose case has a current jail offer of more than 15 days.

Bronx Community Solutions has found that this tier system gives court players increased and escalating sentencing options that enable them to address recidivists who have varying criminal histories. More importantly, it brings a structure of uniformity to the sentencing practices of resource coordinators and court players.