FUNCTIONAL SENTENCING

Giving people the opportunity to improve their lives enhances public safety better than punitive sentences














FS

Courts have an obligation to formulate individualized sentences with the aim of reforming offenders, but increased caseloads have led courts to rely heavily on standardized sentencing practices. An impoverished offender sentenced to a money fine quickly becomes trapped in a cycle of poverty and recidivism as a result of spiraling fees, loss of driving privileges, and warrant-related loss of employment and housing opportunities. Specialty courts address these issues and offer individuals beneficial outcomes, but at prohibitively high costs and only to a limited target population.

Functional Sentencing turns sentencing into an opportunity to help an individual permanently exit the criminal justice system by replacing fines and costs with targeted interventions (e.g. job placement and medical services) that address the root causes of an individual’s offense. Directly incorporating these sentencing options into the court’s regular sentencing practice allows courts to achieve specialty court-level public safety gains at a fraction of the cost.





THE IDEA

SD - FS - Functional Sentencing Program.pdf





THE EXPERIMENT

Since June 2016, we have been running an functional sentencing pilot in Hamtramck, Michigan. People earning less than 150% of poverty are screened at arraignment and placed on a monthly poverty docket. At sentencing, defendants are given one of four types of sentences:

  1. Jail
  2. Money
  3. Community Service
  4. Functional Sentence
  5. Mixed (FS + Money)


Three months after their sentences, we interviewed our clients to see how they were doing.




THE RESULTS


MONEY/CS

70 Clients

20%

EXPERIENCED SOME RECIDIVISM

56%

EXPERIENCED HOUSING INSTABILITY

6%

IMPROVED THEIR INCOME

FUNCTIONAL

24 Clients

8%

EXPERIENCED SOME RECIDIVISM

25%

EXPERIENCED HOUSING INSTABILITY

43%

IMPROVED THEIR INCOME


Our initial results demonstrate that traditional sentences exacerbate poverty and increase risk of homelessness while functional sentences improve incomes and reduce recidivism.