A powerful new tool called JUSTFAIR now allows the public to dig through federal sentencing archives to see exactly what federal judges are doing with sentencing. It’s the first time the public has been able to see all the major federal sentencing data in one place, without having to hunt around and piece it all together. And it’s free.

Before JUSTFAIR was created, all the data on federal sentencing details were available to the public, but spread across numerous government databases and in various locations, making it nearly impossible for even seasoned federal sentencing experts to see what was really going on with federal sentencing. 

Developed by the Institute for the Quantitative Study of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (QSIDE), JUSTFAIR (Judicial System Transparency Through Federal Archive Inferred Records) breaks through the government’s barriers and exposes the problems with federal sentencing.

Three are 94 federal district courts across the country and U.S. territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, etc.), and each state has at least one court, sometimes up to four of them. It used to be that federal sentencing varied by location and the judge’s personal biases. This created huge disparities in sentences handed out for the same offenses, depending on where someone was sentenced.

While the United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG) were created by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to fix this problem, disparities still persist, especially between different race and socio-economic classes. Really, the USSG hardly fixed anything, since nobody has been holding federal judges accountable for their sentencing decisions, unless someone appealed their sentence and it was found to be “unreasonable” by the circuit court (somewhat of a rare event, to say the least).

But appeals don’t get into the finer details of sentencing, like a defendant’s characteristics, and sentencing judges never comment on the record as to any of this. But JUSTFAIR includes all this data. And it does so by combining five main sources of government information on sentencing. It’s a unique database that sheds light on sentencing decisions and could be a game-changer, holding judges accountable for their sentencing decisions. 

JUSTFAIR can be found at QSIDE’s website.

More by Dale Chappell:
Habeas Petitions and Gap Delays

COVID-19 and the SHU

About Dale Chappell

Dale Chappell is a staff writer for Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News magazines, whose writings on criminal justice issues have been quoted by national outlets such as the Washington Post and the Rutherford Institute. A 20-year career firefighter and paramedic, he turned to helping prisoners after seeing the tactics used by the government to make sure the U.S. stays ahead of every other country in imprisoning its citizens. He is a member of the National Lawyers Guild and has helped dozens of prisoners correct their wrongful sentences and convictions. He is the author of two books (so far) in conjunction with attorney Brandon Sample: WinningCites: Section 2255, A Handbook for Prisoners and Lawyers, and WinningCites: Attacking the Guilty Plea. He joins sentencing.net as an author with experience focusing on current trends in the federal courts on sentencing and postconviction issues.

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