Frequently Asked Questions

This document provides answers to some frequently asked questions about the United States Sentencing Commission's Interactive Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics. Included in the FAQs are questions about the tables and figures at this site, as well as general information about the Commission and the federal sentencing guidelines.

Specific to the Interactive Sourcebook

General Information about the Commission and Federal Sentencing Guidelines


  • What information is available from the Interactive Sourcebook?

    The Interactive Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics (ISB) provides interactive information similar to that found in the Commission's Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics (Sourcebook).  The Interactive Sourcebook also provides information not currently available through the Commission's printed Sourcebooks.

    Choose a topic from the homepage (e.g., Drug Data), then a table of contents specific to that topic is provided. Each table and figure available on the ISB and relevant to that topic is listed. The "All Tables and Figures" option provides a table of contents with the titles of all of the tables and figures available on the ISB organized into subject areas. A "smart button" icon Smart Button is associated with each table and figure title. To display additional information about the table or figure, hover over the icon with the mouse pointer. An "info button" icon Info Box Icon is also available on all of the tables and charts. To display additional information about the variables used in the table or figure, click on the "info button" icon.

    For step-by-step instructions for using any of the interactive buttons, please see the Features Guide.

  • Can I customize the tables and figures I generate using the Interactive Sourcebook?

    Yes. The Interactive Sourcebook provides a number of ways to customize the interactive tables and figures. Customize the tables and figures by selecting the funnel icon Filter Icon and choosing one or more of the following: fiscal year, primary guideline, circuit, and/or district. In addition, certain tables can expand or collapse various data categories such as drug type or race within the table. Look for the plus (+) symbol next to c category. Click on the plus symbol to expand the category. To collapse the category, click on the minus sign (-) that appears once the category expanded.

    The figures have additional customizations available beyond the funnel icon choices. The colors in each pie, bar, or line chart are adjustable using the color choice icon Color Choice Icon. The scales of the charts are also adjustable as well. Choose the minimum and maximum values on line and trend charts by selecting the tool icon Tool Icon.

    For step-by-step instructions for using any of the interactive buttons, please see the Features Guide.

  • What options are available for using more than one year of data?

    Each table and figure can be customized using either one year of data or multiple years of data.  Click on the selection criteria/funnel icon Filter Icon to customize a table or figure.  Remember, the most recent fiscal year of data is the default, so that year will have a check mark in the selection box.  To change the fiscal year of data, unselect the current year and then click on the year or years of data.  If more than one year of data is selected, the data will be aggregated.  To compare the same table or graph across years (i.e., without aggregated data), a separate table or figure will need to be generated selecting on a single year of data for each year of interest.  For example, generate the table using the 2014 datafile only.  Next generate the table using the 2013 data only.  Repeat until all of the desired years are generated.  This methodology will enable comparison of data changes across time instead of viewing aggregated data.

    In addition, some figures are available in the trend chart section which specifically display data over time.

  • Why do some of the tables related to the sentence relative to the guideline range have multiple options for the number of categories?

    Since the Booker decision, the Commission has collected and reported information on sentences relative to the guideline range in twelve categories (for more information on each category, please see Appendix A).  Select from one of several pre-defined collapsed categorizations for many of the tables displaying information about sentences relative to the guideline range.  The pre-defined groups are:

    1)All twelve categories: Within Guideline Range, Upward Departures, Upward Departures with Booker, Above Range with Booker, Remaining Above Range, §5K1.1 Substantial Assistance, §5K3.1 Early Disposition Program, Other Government Sponsored, Downward Departures, Downward Departures with Booker, Below Range with Booker, Remaining Below Range
    2)Eight Categories: Within Guideline Range, Upward Departures, Otherwise Above Guideline Range, §5K1.1 Substantial Assistance, §5K3.1 Early Disposition Program, Other Government Sponsored, Downward Departures, Otherwise Below Guideline Range
    3)Six Categories: Within Range, Upward Departures, Otherwise Above Range, Gov't Sponsored Below Range, Downward Departures, Otherwise Below Range
    4)Five Categories: Within Range, Above Range, §5K1.1 Substantial Assistance, §5K3.1/Government Sponsored, Non-Gov't Below Range
    5)Four Categories: Within Range, Above Range, Government Sponsored Below Range, Non-Gov't Below Range
    6)Three Categories: Within Range/Gov't Sponsored, Above Range, Non-Gov't Below Range. Collapsing the within range rate and the government sponsored rate is referred to as the conformance rate in some Commission publications.

    The choice among the above referenced groups is available on the following tables:

    • Sentences Relative to the Guideline Range by Circuit and District (similar to Sourcebook Table 26)
    • Sentences Relative to the Guideline Range by Each Primary Offense Category (similar to Sourcebook Table 27 and 27A)
    • Sentences Relative to the Guideline Range by Each Primary Sentencing Guideline (similar to Sourcebook Table 28)
    • Sentences Relative to the Guideline Range for Drug Offenders in Each Drug Type (similar to Sourcebook Table 45)
    • Sentence Length of Offenders Sentenced Under Immigration Guidelines by Sentence Relative to the Guideline Range (similar to Sourcebook Table 50)
    • Sentences Relative to the Guideline Range Over Time (trend charts not available in the printed Sourcebook)

  • Do any of the other tables have additional options?

    Yes.  Some of the tables have multiple options.  For example, all of the tables that involve age grouping have three different age groupings available to allow more flexibility.

    In addition, some tables also have expandable rows or columns.  For example, Weapon Involvement of Drug Offenders in Each Drug Type (Table 39), has the option to expand the "other" drug type category list as well as to expand the "weapon" category.  Both of those labels are in blue text with a plus sign (+) next to them.  Click on the plus sign to expand the row or column.  The expanded version will have a minus sign (-).  To re-collapse the categories back to the original tables, click on the minus sign and the table will regenerate with the collapsed version.

  • Where can I find definitions of the variables displayed in the tables and figures?

    Descriptions of the variables used in the Interactive Sourcebook can be found in Appendix A.

  • Can I save the customized table or figure that I created?

    Yes, all tables and figures can be saved (with any modifications) as a .PDF document on a computer.  The .PDF can then be imported into a slideshow or document.  In order to create a .PDF, click on the Adobe Acrobat© icon PDF Output Icon.  A pop-up box will appear with three options: "Open," "Save," and "Cancel."  Click on "Save" to save the file on a computer.  Note that the table name will default to the Commission Sourcebook table number and will save in the default download directory unless a different name and/or location is specified.   The .PDF will include whatever selection criteria have been chosen (i.e., what is on the screen will be what is created in the .PDF).

    The table data can also be saved in Excel 2007 format.  Click on the Excel Excel Icon icon.  A pop-up box will appear with three options: "Open," "Save," and "Cancel."  Click on "Save" to save the file on their computer.  Note that the table name will default to the Commission Sourcebook table number and will save in the default download directory unless a different name and/or location is specified.  The EXCEL file will include whatever selection criteria have been chosen (i.e., what is on the screen will be what is created in the save file).

  • What is the United States Sentencing Commission?

    The Commission is an independent agency in the judicial branch of government created by the Sentencing Reform Act provisions of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 (SRA).  Its principal purposes are: (1) to establish sentencing policies and practices for the federal courts, including guidelines to be consulted regarding the appropriate form and severity of punishment for offenders convicted of federal crimes; (2) to advise and assist Congress and the executive branch in the development of effective and efficient crime policy; and (3) to collect, analyze, research, and distribute a broad array of information on federal crime and sentencing issues, serving as an information resource for Congress, the executive branch, the courts, criminal justice practitioners, the academic community, and the public.

    The Commission is charged with the ongoing responsibilities of evaluating the effects of the sentencing guidelines on the criminal justice system, recommending to Congress appropriate modifications of substantive criminal law and sentencing procedures, and establishing a research and development program on sentencing issues.

    To read more about the Commission, click on the following link:

    www.ussc.gov/About_the_Commission/Overview_of_the_USSC/USSC_Overview.pdf

  • What are the federal sentencing guidelines?

    Congress tasked the Commission with developing sentencing guidelines that would further the basic purposes of criminal punishment: deterrence, incapacitation, just punishment, and rehabilitation.

    The federal sentencing guidelines apply to all federal Class A misdemeanor and felony offenses committed on or after November 1, 1987.

    The federal sentencing guidelines established by the Commission are designed to

    • incorporate the purposes of sentencing (i.e., just punishment, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation);
    • provide certainty and fairness in meeting the purposes of sentencing by avoiding unwarranted disparity among offenders with similar characteristics convicted of similar criminal conduct, while permitting sufficient judicial flexibility to take into account relevant aggravating and mitigating factors;
    • reflect, to the extent practicable, advancement in the knowledge of human behavior as it relates to the criminal justice process.

    For more information about the federal sentencing guidelines, click on the following link:  www.ussc.gov/About_the_Commission/Overview_of_the_USSC/Overview_Federal_Sentencing_Guidelines.pdf

    The current version of the United States Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual can be found at:  www.ussc.gov/guidelines-manual/guidelines-manual.

    The Commission's Office of Education and Sentencing Practices offers training videos and educational material about the federal sentencing guidelines.  Click on this link for more information from this office:  www.ussc.gov/Education_and_Training/index.cfm.

  • What types of information does the Commission collect?

    The Commission collects and analyzes information on all federal felony and Class A misdemeanor cases sentenced in federal court.1 The Commission's Sourcebook data does NOT include: state cases, federal petty offenses, federal cases which result in all charges being dismissed or acquitted, federal death penalty cases, federal juvenile cases, or federal witness protection cases. Each case in the Commission's individual offender datafile represents a unique sentencing event for a single offender.

    Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 994(w), the chief judge of each federal judicial district is required to ensure that within 30 days of entry of judgment in a criminal case, the sentencing court submits a report of sentence to the Commission that includes (1) the indictment or other charging document; (2) any plea agreement; (3) the judgment and commitment order; (4) the presentence report; (5) the written statement of reasons for the sentence; and (6) any other information the Commission needs.

    The Commission extracts and codes data from these documents for input into various databases, including the "Offender Datafile."

    For each case in its "Offender Datafile," the Commission routinely collects case identifiers, sentencing data, demographic variables, statutory information, the complete range of court guideline decisions, and departure and variance information.

    More information about the Commission's data collection, analysis, and reporting can be found in the Commission's publication Federal Sentencing Data and Analysis Issues.

    In addition to the individual offender data, the Commission also collects data on organizational (corporate) offenders, re-sentencings, and sentencing appeals.

  • Does the Commission make its data publicly available?

    Yes. The Commission's individual offender datafiles and an accompanying codebook are distributed online on the Commission's website: https://www.ussc.gov/Research_and_Statistics/Datafiles/index.cfm

    The datafiles are released in both SPSS and SAS formats. Downloading the files will require a software package specifically designed for data analyses to use these datafiles. The datafiles have about 80,000 records and over 5,000 variables, so they are too big to open in EXCEL.

    Pursuant to the Commission's policy on public access to documents and data (54 Fed. Reg. 51279 (12/13/89)), all case and defendant identifiers have been removed from all publicly released datafiles. The codebook provided with each datafile discusses in detail information about the variables included in the datafiles.

    The Commission's individual offender, organizational offender, and appeals datasets are also distributed online by the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan. Datafiles are available via the following Internet address: www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/NACJD/archive.jsp

    Some Commission datafiles also have been incorporated into the combined federal criminal justice datafiles of the Federal Justice Statistics Resource Center, which is sponsored by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, available at: bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/fjsrc/

    For information about applying to the Commission to obtain access to the Commission's non-public data, please see: www.ussc.gov/Publications/19891213_Public_Access_Documents_Data.pdf

  • What publications are available from the Commission?

    Links to available publications can be found here: www.ussc.gov/Publications/index.cfm.

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1 Felony counts of conviction are all subject to maximum penalties over one year and Class A Misdemeanor maximum penalties are more than six months up to one year.  For more information about sentencing classification of offenses, please see 18 U.S.C. § 3559.