America’s state and federal prisons have been overcrowded since the recent return to determinate sentencing after thirty years. Despite a marked decline in crime rate since 1991, the prison population has increased continuously to 2011 and the overall imprisonment rate to 2007. The 1991 prison population was 1,219,014. This was 481 for every 100,000 people. Inmates reached 2,308,390 by 2008. In 2013, both the number of inmates admitted to state and federal prisons and their lengths in jail significantly increased. (Tonry, 1997.)
The maximum and minimum length of determinate sentencing is five years. Although determinate sentencing is meant to promote equality in sentencing, it doesn’t always achieve this. The discretionary/parole availability for truth-in-sentencing and determinate sentencing is very limited. These laws are based on David Fogul’s justice model and Andrew von Hirsh’s “just deserts” concept. These concepts have the same basis: the punishment should be proportional in severity to the crime. (book) Unfortunately, our current prison overload is due to these harsh sentencing laws. (Abadinsky, 2015. One of the goals of determinate sentencing aims to get rid of parole boards. The system has been able to work with parole and parole boards. Over the years, parole has been used to preserve prison discipline and decrease prison population. As I mentioned, parole is a result of pardons issued by governors. This tactic was used prior to the creation of parole board. Parole agencies were used as a “safety mechanism” during the indeterminate sentence period. Texas increased parole availability when Texas prisons became too full in the 1980s. About forty percent were paroled by 1983 after their first hearing. (Abadinsky, 2015)
Prosecutorial discretion is another issue in determinate sentencing. 1984’s Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 was designed to abolish indeterminate sentencing. This was done in order to reduce sentence disparity as well as eliminate the parole release system. However, judges were deprived of their discretion and prosecutors gained it which resulted a longer prison term and more prison cells. Ronald Wright wrote in his article, Managing Prison Growth In North Carolina through Structured Sentencing that “Legislativley mandateddeterminate sentencing hasn’t proven to be an effective alternative to the old indeterminate systems.” (Abadinksy (2015).
Another concern is the increasing incidence of sentence disparity since the dissolution of parole boards. The parole board’s role in decreasing sentence disparity is completely ignored in the determinate sentencencing scheme. It can be a mediator factor, since one of its main functions is to review all state prison sentences. Nebraska is an example. It functions as an “equalizer” and mediates between ninetythree prosecuting officers and multiple jurisdictions. (Abadinsky, 2015.)
Prisons were not built to house every person who was sentenced to prison. Prison is intended to be a system of circulation. The circulation system has stopped working unfortunately. Politics can have an effect on prison sentence policy and, ultimately, the overcrowding of prisons. One theory is that the high rate of incarceration in America and overcrowding in U.S. jails and prisons are due to decisions made by policymakers to increase the severity and use of prison sentences (Travis, Western and Redburn, 2014). Following the declaration of the war on drug in 1982 by President Reagan, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, as well as judges, began to treat drug-related offences with greater severity. This led directly to an increase at incarceration. (Javitze, 2009.)
Prison overcrowding can also be attributed to politicians who promote tougher crime laws. “Clearly parole was an easily target for those looking to make political connections,” Barbara Krauth says. (Abadinksy 2015.) Sentence reform has been described by some as a “political soccer.” (Stansky 1996. Due to the democratic system in which our nation has frequent legislative elections and widely dispersed powers of government, as well as the election of judges/prosecutors, lawmakers are more open to public opinion on crime. They can also be vulnerable to pressures from political opponents and the public to pass tough legislation quickly (Javitze (2009)).
Indeterminate sentencing is a better option than determinate sentencing. Indeterminate sentencing typically involves a minimum sentence and a maximum sentence, with the release being determined by parole boards or the accumulation good time. This type was first introduced in 1840, when Alexander Maconochie created a system for punishing criminals that focuses on rehabilitation. (Abadinsky, 2015.) Indeterminate sentencing will be less likely than determinate to release prisoners prematurely or to place them in prolonged confinement that is not necessary for safety. (Slobogin, 2011).
Indeterminate sentencing is more focused on a reformative and rehabilitative approach than a “just desserts” approach. Rehabilitative correctional programmes are more costly than prisons that only aim to punish prisoners. But they can also be more beneficial for society and the prisoners. Regular evaluations and hearings are required for indeterminate sentencing. Treatment teams and other means of rehabilitation in the local community are also needed. Once they are established, however, community programs are cheaper than institutions and have a better track record in reducing recidivism.
Indeterminate sentencing serves an important purpose. Parole and sentences with indeterminate terms help prepare prisoners to go out into the world. “In the absence, discretionary release from a paroleboard, there’s little to no pressure for prisoners, if any,” (Abadinsky – 2015). This sentencing scheme is seconded because it protects the public against violent and habitual offenders, while providing opportunities for nonviolent offenders. (Gault, 1921.)
Parole boards and indeterminate sentences have another advantage: it is possible to distinguish between inmates who deserve early release from those who don’t. To determine which prisoners should be released before their sentences expire and which should not, assessments can be done. Parole boards have this discretion. They evaluate and decide who stays and goes. Governors have the power in pardoning certain criminals, which is why parole boards exist. Prison officials are able to perform similar functions in states with determinate sentencing. Prison officials may not have all the information, expertise, or time to make an accurate decision about release. Parole and indeterminate sentencing are options that allow parole boards the freedom to make discretionary decisions on the basis of their knowledge. This provides parole board members with an incentive to help prisoners develop personal goals and motivate them to live law-abiding lives. (Abadinsky, 2015.)
Indeterminate sentencing is more popular than determinate, which can lead to overcrowding prisons. Indeterminate sentencing gives parole boards the option to release offenders earlier at their discretion. Parapare boards and critics who advocate indeterminate sentencing argue that judges should have the final say. However parole boards are more equipped to deal with offenders’ release. Parole board support also helps inmates prepare for outside life. There is no pressure for inmates to make preparations for life after release. This leads to increased recidivism and eventually, overcrowded prisons.