Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Public Affairs and Administration

First Advisor

Dr. Peter Kobrak

Second Advisor

Dr. Charles Crawford

Third Advisor

Dr. Kathleen Reding


Many states and the federal judiciary have adopted sentencing guidelines as a mechanism of sentencing reform. This study used the bounded rationality model to investigate judicial decision-making under Michigan Sentencing Guidelines, and the effectiveness o f the guidelines in reducing or eliminating sentencing disparities — situations in which legally similar defendants receive dissimilar sentences.

A statistical and comparative analysis of a database sample of felony cases (n = 20,834), sentenced in four different-sized Michigan counties from 1992 through 1997, was examined with logistic and linear regression models. Logistic regression results indicate a significant association (p < .05) between incarceration and some legal and extralegal variables. Legal variables, such as prior felony convictions, sentencing guideline scores, offense type/severity, the defendant’s relationship with the criminal justice system, and extralegal variables, such as the defendant’s race and gender, year and county of sentencing, are important predictors of sentencing outcomes. Linear regression results indicate a significant association (p < .05) between the minimum term of imprisonment and prior felony convictions, sentencing guidelines and offense type/ severity, but not with extralegal variables. These results suggest that judicial decision-making remains a human/“bounded rationality” process.

The findings of this study have important policy implications for Michigan. First, defendants who have prior felony convictions or were under the supervision of the criminal justice system when they committed the most recent offense are more likely to receive incarcerative sentences and longer minimum terms of imprisonment. Second, sentencing disparities necessitate the supervision of some offenders in secure/ more expensive correctional facilities when they can be safely supervised in less restrictive/more cost efficient community-based programs. Third, in addition to economic costs, there are social costs associated with the incarceration of nonviolent offenders—including the stigma of incarceration—that remain long after the sentence is discharged.

Substantial economic and social benefits may be realized with policy initiatives aimed at curbing the re-offending rate, enforcing compliance with sentencing guidelines, increasing the availability and use of community-based alternative sanctions, and instituting periodic review/evaluation of sentencing guidelines.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access