Just deserts, as a philosophy of punishment, argues that criminal sanctions should be commensurate with the seriousness of the offense. This paper analyzes the severity of punishment meted out to felony offenders in a large urban jurisdiction in the Midwest and argues that two dimensions of criminal sanction need to be examined to understand punishment severity: the type of sanction received and the length of sentence. We also argue that the frequency and visibility of crime are linked to punishment severity. Analyses indicate that crime visibility is a good predictor both of judicial decisions to incarcerate and of the length of term of probation. Crime frequency, on the other hand, has little predictive power. We conclude that judges in the jurisdiction are guided by a modified just deserts philosophy in their sentencing decisions.

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