Career Offenders

Population Snapshot

"Cover of the Quick Facts handout"

Of the 64,124 cases reported to the Commission in fiscal year 2023, 1,351 involved career offenders.[1] In 91.8% of such cases, career offender status increased the guideline range.

Click the cover for the PDF handout or learn more below. 

What is a Career Offender?

A career offender is someone who commits a crime of violence or a controlled substance offense after two prior felony convictions for those crimes. The sentencing guidelines assign all career offenders to Criminal History Category (CHC) VI and to offense levels at or near the statutory maximum penalty of the offense of conviction.[2]



Individual and Offense Characteristics



  • 95.9% of career offenders were men.
  • 58.4% of career offenders were Black, 25.7% were White, 14.1% were Hispanic, and 1.9% were Other races.
  • Their average age was 40 years.
  • 98.4% were United States citizens.
  • 45.7% would not change from Criminal History Category (CHC) VI if the career offender provision had not been applied; 
    • 0.0% would have been CHC I;
    • 0.4% would have been CHC II;
    • 8.6% would have been CHC III;
    • 21.6% would have been CHC IV;
    • 23.7% would have been CHC V.
  • The top five districts for career offenders were: 
    • District of New Jersey (49);
    • Eastern District of Arkansas (48);
    • Western District of Pennsylvania (44);
    • Southern District of Iowa (40);
    • Eastern District of North Carolina (39).




  • The average sentence for career offenders was 154 months.
  • 99.4% were sentenced to prison.
  • 63.5% were convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty.




Impact of Career Offender Status

  • 40.1% of career offenders had an increase in both Final Offense Level (FOL) and CHC. [3]
    • Their average FOL increased from 25 to 31 and the average CHC increased from IV to VI.
  • 37.2% had an increase in the FOL only. 
    • Their average FOL increased from 24 to 31.
  • 14.5% had an increase in the CHC only. 
    • Their average CHC increased from IV to VI.
  • 8.2% had no increase in FOL or CHC.



Sentences Relative to the Guideline Range



  • Of the 42.7% of career offenders sentenced under the Guidelines Manual:
    • 47.4% were sentenced within the guideline range.
    • 40.3% received a substantial assistance departure. 
      • Their average sentence reduction was 51.0%.
    • 10.6% received some other downward departure.
      • Their average sentence reduction was 45.8%.
    • 1.7% received an Early Disposition Program (EDP) departure.[4]
      • Their average sentence reduction was 64.9%.
  • 57.3% received a variance; of those offenders: 
    • 98.8% received a downward variance.
      • Their average sentence reduction was 39.6%.
    • 1.2% received an upward variance.
      • Their average sentence increase was 29.7%.




  • The average guideline minimum increased and the average sentence imposed fluctuated over the past five years. 
    • The average guideline minimum slightly increased from 218 months in fiscal year 2019 to 226 months in fiscal year 2023.
    • The average sentence was 152 months in fiscal year 2019 and 154 months in fiscal year 2023.




[1] Cases with incomplete sentencing information were excluded from the analysis.

[2] In some cases, a state offense classified under state law as a misdemeanor (e.g., in Iowa, Massachusetts, and Michigan) is considered a felony in determining career offender status. For more information, see USSG §4B1.1.

[3] Cases missing Ch. 2 guideline data and cases in which §4B1.1(c) applied were excluded for this part of the analysis. Cases where both §4B1.1 and §4B1.4 (Armed Career Criminal) applied were assigned to the provision with the higher offense level.

[4] “Early Disposition Program" (or EDP) departures are departures where the government sought a sentence below the guideline range because the defendant participated in the government’s Early Disposition Program, through which cases are resolved in an expedited manner. See USSG §5K3.1.

SOURCE: United States Sentencing Commission, FY 2019 through FY 2023 Datafiles, USSCFY19-USSCFY23.