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Sentencing Guidelines: Mission and Purposes

The mission of the Sentencing Commission, outlined in G.L. c. 211E, is to recommend sentencing policies and practices to develop systematic sentencing guidelines for every criminal offense and to integrate intermediate sanctions.

Table of Contents


The commission adopted a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to developing sentencing guidelines. This approach is based on c. 211E, § 2, “Purpose of sentencing commission,” as well as evidence and nationwide sentencing practices and results over the last two decades.


In determining the purpose of sentencing, the Commission considered different sentencing purposes, including punishment, retribution, rehabilitation, deterrence, and incapacitation. Consistent with c. 211E, the Commission has adopted the following general purposes of sentencing:

To protect public safety by providing a response to crime which is swift, just, and predictable and, to process, adjudicate, and/or punish every offender justly. A just system of punishment:

  • reflects the (1) relative seriousness of the offense, including the harm done to the victim(s) or to society; (2) the relative culpability or blameworthiness of the defendant; and (3) the need to promote respect for the law by both the defendant and the community;
  • affords just and appropriate deterrence to criminal conduct;
  • provides the defendant with educational or vocational training, as needed;
  • provides the defendant with treatment for mental, emotional, psychological, or physical conditions, including substance abuse, as needed;
  • protects the public from further crimes of the defendant, including recidivism prevention through expanded and integrated supervision systems by probation and parole, which are cautious to avoid increased or unjust net-widening leading to excessive incarceration of offenders;
  • provides predictability and fairness by: promulgating comprehensive sentencing guidelines and necessary improvements in procedures for probation revocations; avoiding unwarranted disparities among defendants
  • with similar criminal records, comparable culpability, and found guilty of similar offenses; maintaining (1) judicial discretion and sufficient flexibility to permit individualized dispositions warranted by all the facts, and (2) sufficient checks and balances, to appropriately protect both fairness and the prerogatives of the executive branch;
  • promotes transparency in sentencing, so that all parties involved in the criminal justice process, including victims and the public, are aware of the nature and actual length of the sentence;
  • rations criminal justice resources, including incarceration, use of the court system, criminal records, collateral consequences, and sentencing according to the principles of parsimony and cost-effectiveness, with appropriate checks, balances, and deference to the separation of powers. Each prosecution and adjudication should be sufficient, but no more severe than is necessary to achieve the goals of sentencing policy;
  • encourages the development and implementation of intermediate sanctions as a sentencing option, which will be consistent with public safety, the defendant’s relative culpability, and prevention of future crimes;
  • enhances the value of criminal sanctions and ensures the criminal penalties imposed that are the most appropriate for each case by encouraging the development and use of a wider array of criminal sanctions; and,
  • strives to maximize social justice and avoid unjustified disparate impact based on ethnicity, religion, gender or gender identification, sexual orientation, or other invidious criteria.

Additional Resources

Contact   for Sentencing Guidelines: Mission and Purposes


John Adams Courthouse, One Pemberton Square - G300, Boston, MA 02108
Date published: April 26, 2019

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