Article Title

Power, Knowledge, and Relationships within the Federal Sentencing Guidelines: a Foucauldian Critique

Publication Title

Washington University Jurisprudence Review


The Federal Sentencing Guidelines have been subject to criticism since their inception. Various commentators, both inside and outside of the judicial system, have raised issues ranging from the significant curtailment of judicial discretion to the failure to address the disparities that were the part of the impetus for their creation. Over the years, some of these criticisms have been addressed, either through the actions of the Commission or through the judiciary, while others, like sentencing disparities along racial lines, remain stubbornly persistent. The Guidelines, contrary to their original intent, formalize and codify these disparities. Just as the prison system encourages and refines criminal activity by physically putting people in the same box, the Guidelines serve as the conceptual equivalent, confining the analysis of the person to a series of boxes. The creation of centralized bureaucracy for the collection and dissemination of information not only analogizes itself to the Foucouldian Panopticon, but it also furthers the removal of the unique aspects of the individual from the core dialogue surrounding criminal punishment and establishes its own incentive for self-perpetuation. This exercise of power through abrogation and objectification exacerbates the isolation of the individual from society, increasing the potential for recidivism and removing incentives for successful reintegration into society.