The focal concerns of sentencing and mandatory sentencing laws: Circumvention in the context of mandatory probation and treatment


This study examines courtroom actors' motivations for circumventing Kansas' Senate Bill 123, which created a mandatory probation/treatment sentence for felony drug possession. Building on the focal concerns perspective, the study explores whether the focal concerns traditionally expressed in sentencing decisions - defendant blameworthiness and dangerousness - applied in the context of a mandatory probation/treatment law. Relying on a qualitative approach, involving semi-structured interviews with 60 judges, prosecutors, and public defenders from across Kansas, we find that courtroom actors expressed little outward concern for traditional focal concerns of defendant blameworthiness or dangerousness in circumventing the mandatory probation/treatment law. The more prevalent motivations for circumvention focused on concerns regarding offenders' treatment need/amenability and the efficacy of supervision/treatment regimes. We argue that the orientation of the law - focused on increasing access to treatment and reducing substance abuse - triggered a shift in the focal concerns of sentencing away from concerns over blameworthiness/dangerousness and toward concerns over treatment need/amenability.

Document Type





circumvention, focal concerns, mandatory sentencing, sentencing

Publication Date


Journal Title

Journal of Crime and Justice