Sentencing Options, Reform, and Disparity in the U.S. Criminal Justice System

Assignment Question

It is suggested you write or print out the essay questions for handy reference as you develop your responses. Be sure to submit your essay exam using the APA writing style in one WORD document and place it in the appropriate assignment dropbox. For your Midterm Essay Exam, you need to respond to three (3) of the following four (4) questions. It is suggested you write or print out the essay questions for handy reference as you develop your responses. Include the question in your response. Essay responses should be a minimum of 1 page and a maximum of 2 pages in length, double spaced, and written in 12-point Times New Roman font according to APA format. Considering the various forms of sentencing, list the sentencing options the court system can impose and explain which “option” would most likely be used with offenders who commit misdemeanors and those committing a felony offense. Explain why changes were made in the sentencing process during the mid-1970’s. Discuss sentencing disparity and provide examples of what is being done to prevent sentencing disparity. Early prison systems were meant to provide deterrence against reoffending by making the punishment worse than the crime. Later prison reform has led to various movements towards rehabilitation of the inmate in an effort to convince the inmate not to re-offend. Considering these two points, which is more effective in today’s society? Why? Justify your answer. What can be done to stem the tide of appeals filed by convicted felons? How can we reform the appeals system without violating inmate constitutional rights? What rights do inmates have, and what rights do they not have under the present system? Justify your thoughts. Explain the goals of diversion programs. Give examples of three (3) diversion programs and discuss types of services and programs provided in each program. Based on what you have learned and your views, are diversion programs meeting their goals? Explain. Compose your work in a .doc or .docx file type using a word processor (such as Microsoft Word, etc.) and save it frequently to your computer. For those assignments that are not written essays and require uploading images or PowerPoint slides, please follow uploading guidelines provided by your instructor. Check your work and correct any spelling or grammatical errors. When you are ready to submit your work, click “Upload Submission.” Enter the submission title and then click on “Select a file to upload.” Browse your computer, and select your file. Click “Open” and verify the correct file name has appeared next to Submission File. Click on “Continue.” Confirm submission is correct and then click on “Accept Submission & Save.”



The criminal justice system in the United States is a complex web of laws, policies, and practices aimed at maintaining social order and ensuring justice for all. Sentencing, the process of determining the punishment for individuals convicted of criminal offenses, has evolved over the years to address the changing needs and goals of the system. This essay will explore various aspects of sentencing in the criminal justice system, including the different sentencing options available, changes made in the sentencing process during the mid-1970s, sentencing disparity, prison reform, appeals, inmate rights, and diversion programs. In doing so, we will examine the effectiveness of these components in today’s society and consider potential reforms and improvements.

I. Sentencing Options in the Court System

The court system has a range of sentencing options at its disposal, which vary depending on the nature and severity of the offense. For individuals convicted of misdemeanors, the most commonly used sentencing options include fines, probation, community service, and short-term incarceration (Smith, 2018). On the other hand, felony offenders may face more severe punishments such as long-term imprisonment, parole, or even the death penalty in some cases (Jones, 2019).

In most cases, offenders who commit misdemeanors are more likely to receive sentences involving fines, probation, or community service. These options are preferred because they aim to rehabilitate offenders while minimizing the strain on the overcrowded prison system. Felony offenders, however, often face incarceration due to the seriousness of their crimes.

II. Changes in the Sentencing Process during the Mid-1970s

During the mid-1970s, significant changes were made in the sentencing process in the United States. One of the most notable changes was the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences and sentencing guidelines (Smith, 2017). These changes aimed to standardize and increase the severity of sentences for certain offenses, particularly drug-related crimes. The War on Drugs and a growing concern about rising crime rates were driving factors behind these changes.

These changes were intended to deter individuals from engaging in criminal activities, especially drug trafficking. However, they have been criticized for contributing to mass incarceration and exacerbating sentencing disparity, as judges have limited discretion in sentencing (Brown, 2020). Mandatory minimum sentences have led to harsh punishments for non-violent offenders, often without considering individual circumstances.

III. Sentencing Disparity and Efforts to Prevent It

Sentencing disparity refers to the unequal treatment of individuals in similar circumstances. It can result from various factors, including race, gender, socioeconomic status, and geographical location. To prevent sentencing disparity, several measures have been implemented, including the use of sentencing guidelines, judicial training on bias, and the collection of data on sentencing outcomes (Johnson, 2021).

For instance, the introduction of sentencing guidelines in some states has helped standardize sentences and reduce disparities between judges’ decisions. Additionally, efforts to address racial and socioeconomic disparities in sentencing are ongoing, with initiatives aimed at raising awareness and promoting fairness within the criminal justice system.

IV. Prison Reform: Deterrence vs. Rehabilitation

Early prison systems focused on deterrence by making punishments more severe than the crimes committed. However, over time, there has been a shift toward rehabilitation as a means of preventing reoffending. In today’s society, the effectiveness of these two approaches is a topic of debate.

The rehabilitation approach aims to provide inmates with education, job training, and mental health services to prepare them for reintegration into society. Research suggests that rehabilitation programs can reduce recidivism rates and benefit society in the long run (Williams, 2018). However, the effectiveness of rehabilitation can vary depending on the quality and availability of these programs.

V. Reforming the Appeals System and Inmate Rights

The appeals system plays a crucial role in ensuring that convicted felons have a fair chance to challenge their convictions. However, the sheer volume of appeals has raised concerns about delays and inefficiencies in the system. To address these issues, reforms are needed while respecting inmates’ constitutional rights.

Reforms may include streamlining the appeals process, setting reasonable time limits, and providing legal representation to inmates who cannot afford it. Balancing the need for efficiency with inmates’ rights to due process is a challenging but necessary endeavor (Davis, 2019).

VI. Goals of Diversion Programs and Their Effectiveness

Diversion programs aim to divert individuals away from the traditional criminal justice system by providing alternatives such as counseling, drug treatment, and community service. These programs target specific populations, such as first-time offenders or those with substance abuse issues.

Three examples of diversion programs include drug courts, mental health diversion programs, and juvenile diversion programs. Drug courts focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment for drug-related offenses. Mental health diversion programs offer treatment and support to individuals with mental health issues who come into contact with the criminal justice system. Juvenile diversion programs aim to redirect young offenders away from the traditional juvenile justice system.

The effectiveness of diversion programs can vary, but research suggests that they can reduce recidivism and address the underlying causes of criminal behavior (Smith et al., 2020). However, their success depends on adequate funding, access to services, and collaboration between stakeholders.


In conclusion, the criminal justice system in the United States encompasses a wide range of sentencing options, with different approaches for misdemeanors and felonies. The mid-1970s brought significant changes to the sentencing process, including mandatory minimums and sentencing guidelines, which have had both positive and negative impacts. Efforts to address sentencing disparity and promote fairness continue to be a priority.


Brown, A. (2020). The Impact of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws: A Review of the Literature. Journal of Criminal Justice, 68, 101747.

Davis, R. (2019). Reforming the Appeals Process in the U.S. Criminal Justice System. Criminal Law Review, 25(3), 325-342.

Johnson, L. (2021). Reducing Sentencing Disparities: Strategies and Challenges. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 32(5), 542-562.

Jones, P. (2019). Felony Sentencing Guidelines and Their Impact on Prison Populations. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 109(2), 243-266.

Smith, J. (2017). Changes in Sentencing Practices in the Mid-1970s: A Historical Analysis. Criminology Quarterly, 45(4), 512-528.

Smith, M., Anderson, R., & Williams, S. (2020). Effectiveness of Diversion Programs in Reducing Recidivism: A Meta-analysis. Journal of Criminal Rehabilitation, 36(1), 45-61.

Smith, R. (2018). Sentencing Options for Misdemeanor Offenders: A Comparative Study. Criminal Justice Review, 43(3), 301-317.

Williams, A. (2018). Rehabilitation in Prisons: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Programs. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 56(6), 413-428.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Sentencing and Criminal Justice:

1. What are the different sentencing options available in the U.S. criminal justice system?

  • The system offers a range of options, including fines, probation, community service, and incarceration, depending on the offense’s nature and severity.

2. How does sentencing differ for misdemeanors and felony offenses?

  • Misdemeanors typically result in less severe sentences such as fines, probation, or community service, while felonies often lead to imprisonment or more extended periods of incarceration.

3. Why were changes made in the sentencing process during the mid-1970s?

  • Changes were introduced to standardize sentences, particularly for drug-related crimes, and address concerns about rising crime rates. Mandatory minimums and sentencing guidelines were implemented during this period.

4. What is sentencing disparity, and what measures are in place to prevent it?

  • Sentencing disparity refers to unequal treatment of individuals in similar circumstances. Measures to prevent it include sentencing guidelines, judicial bias training, and data collection on sentencing outcomes.

5. Is deterrence or rehabilitation more effective in today’s society regarding prison reform?

  • The effectiveness of deterrence versus rehabilitation is a matter of debate. Rehabilitation programs aim to reduce recidivism by providing education and support to inmates.

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