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Split Sentencing in Georgia: A Test of Two Empirical Assumptions

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 4 Issue: 4 Dated: (December 1987) Pages: 611-630
Date Published
20 pages
Recent research on felony sentencing in the Nation's trial courts has highlighted a type of sentence in which a prison term is coupled with a probation period.
Under these so-called 'split sentences,' convicted felons serve a term of incarceration, are released (possibly) on parole, and eventually come under the concurrent jurisdiction of both parole and probation authorities. Although such a sentence may serve a variety of purposes, it is at least conceivable that judges use the prison/probation combination as a way to respond to prison overcrowding and public pressure for punitiveness. This article reports a study of split sentencing in Georgia from 1976 to May 1985. Drawing on more general research on felony sentencing in the State's Superior Courts, the authors test two empirical assumptions about split sentencing: (1) the perception that split sentencing has increased over time and (2) the importance of the total term (i.e., the prison/probation combination) over the actual severity (i.e., the time specified for incarceration). These assumptions surfaced in extended interviews with court and community authorities in selected judicial circuits across the State. The empirical tests of these two assumptions consist of an examination of aggregate sentencing patterns and multivariate analyses of two conceptions of the split sentence. The data provide limited support for the two empirical assumptions. There was no evidence that felony courts in Georgia had increased their reliance on split-sentence terms. Aggregate evidence, however, suggested that judges might use split sentencing as a way to balance the competing pressures of prison overcrowding and the demand for punitiveness. Multivariate analyses offer mixed support for propositions on the importance of the total term. The study concludes with a consideration of the implications for public policy and for research on racial discrimination, sentencing, and trial court processes in general. (Publisher abstract)

Date Published: January 1, 1987