Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Criminology and Criminal Justice

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Lee Ann Slocum, PhD


Finn Esbensen, PhD

Beth Huebner, PhD

Cassia Spohn, PhD


The statutory supervised release sentencing range for child pornography offenders convicted in U.S. District Courts is five years to life. However, the guideline policy statement contained in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines recommends lifetime supervision for all child pornography offenders. U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) data for fiscal year 2012 indicate that only approximately 33% of child pornography offenders were sentenced to lifetime supervision. This variation suggests the possibility of unwarranted supervised release sentencing disparities. The dissertation explores this possibility by examining the effects of individual-level legal and extralegal factors and district-level contextual factors on supervised release sentences for child pornography offenders. Findings reveal that approximately 27% of the variability in supervised release sentence length is at the district–level with the remainder at the individual-level. In addition, at the individual-level, both legal (offense seriousness, plea, criminal history, detention, number of counts of conviction, and departure/variance) and extralegal factors (race, education, citizenship, age, and family ties) influence supervised release sentence outcomes. The effects of some of these factors vary across courts, meaning that there is variability across courts in the extent to which certain individual-level factors are relevant for sentencing decisions. Finally, at the district-level, courts located in the Western region of the United States sentence child pornography offenders to longer sentences of supervised release than those located in the East. The findings from this study highlight the problematic nature of a statutory supervised release range of 5 years to life. This wide range allows for disparity in sentencing decisions. In the absence of substantive changes to the statutory supervised release range, the USSC should consider revising the supervised release sentencing guideline to reduce disparity within and across district courts. One viable option is for the USSC to calculate the supervised release sentence in the same manner that the sentence of imprisonment is calculated. This strategy would base supervised release sentences solely on legal factors such as offense seriousness and criminal history, thereby reducing unwarranted sentencing disparities and promoting greater uniformity and predictability of sentences.