Document Type


Publication Title

Federal Sentencing Reporter

Publication Date




First Page





America was a different place at the time Judge Marvin Frankel penned his now-famous text Criminal Sentences: Law without Order in 1973. Richard Nixon was the U.S. president. The Vietnam War was ending. The Watergate scandal was unfolding. There was much to grab the public’s attention, and criminal sentencing was not a national or international headline. Just two years earlier, President Nixon had declared a war on drugs and targeted drug abuse as “public enemy number one,” but it would be over a decade before punitive mandatory minimum drug sentences would become our sentencing norm. At the time of Frankel’s publication, the national prison population stood at only 200,000. Given this backdrop, Judge Frankel’s thoughts on all that was wrong with federal sentencing could have seemed completely insignificant. In the Preface to his book, Frankel even acknowledged that, when it came to sentencing, “we draw curtains over such dank subjects.” However, fifty years later, we celebrate his work as a formative text that shaped the sentencing systems adopted throughout the country and by the federal government. Though the sentencing guideline systems and sentencing commissions we see today are not exact replicas of the ideas Frankel set forth in his book, he planted the seeds that eventually led to significant changes in the sentencing landscape. As a sentencing scholar, Judge Frankel’s boldness and willingness to dream big about creating a different sentencing system have inspired me throughout my career. His willingness to call for reconstructing the sentencing system is an appeal that still rings true today.


Federal Sentencing Reporter article link:

© 2023 Vera Institute of Justice.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.