Assertions of "future dangerousness" at federal capital sentencing: rates and correlates of subsequent prison misconduct and violence

Law Hum Behav. 2008 Feb;32(1):46-63. doi: 10.1007/s10979-007-9107-7. Epub 2007 Sep 18.


The federal prison disciplinary records of federal capital inmates (n=145) who were sentenced to life without possibility of release (LWOP) by plea bargain, pre-sentencing withdrawal of the death penalty, or jury determination were retrospectively reviewed (M=6.17 years post-admission). Disaggregated prevalence rates were inversely related to infraction severity: serious infraction =0.324, assaultive infraction =0.207, serious assault =0.09, assault with moderate injury =0.007, assault with major injuries or death =0.00. Frequency rates of misconduct were equivalent to other high-security federal inmates (n=18,561), regardless of infraction severity. Government assertions of "future dangerousness" as a nonstatutory aggravating factor were not predictive of prison misconduct. These findings inform federal capital risk assessments and have public policy implications for procedural reliability in death penalty prosecutions.

Publication types

  • Legal Case
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Capital Punishment*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prisons*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • United States
  • Violence* / statistics & numerical data