Wisconsin has already had two sentencing commissions, now both defunct. Is it time to think about a third? Sentencing commissions have proven their worth over the long haul in a number of other states, including Minnesota, North Carolina, and Virginia. A successful sentencing commission promulgates guidelines that channel judicial sentencing discretion and reduce sentencing disparities, collects and analyzes sentencing data in order to support evidence-based decision making, and provides information and recommendations to the legislature than can help to blunt some of the political system’s tendencies to excessive harshness. Although it is certainly not cost-free, a good commission may ultimately save the state far more than is required to fund its operations.
With these considerations in mind, the latest edition of the Marquette University Law School Poll asked respondents their views of commissions and of judicial sentencing discretion. (For my earlier posts on the Poll, see here and here.) The results indicate that there is substantial support for a commission, but that Wisconsinites also appreciate what their locally elected judges bring to the table as sentencers.