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October 10, 2007

New paper on increasing prison sentences

I just got an e-mail alerting me to this new short article by Marc Mauer in the journal Social Research. The article is entitled "The Hidden Problem of Time Served in Prison," and here is what the e-mail tells me about the article:

[This article] addresses one of the key factors contributing to the rising rate of incarceration in the United States - the increasing length of prison sentences.  As a result of such policies as mandatory sentencing, "three strikes and you're out," and cutbacks in parole eligibility, the average time served in prison before first release rose by 32% in the 1990s, according to Department of Justice data.

Lengthening prison terms is problematic for several reasons:

  • Increasing time served does not reduce recidivism
  • Longer prison terms are expensive and erode community ties
  • Increasing time served does not contribute to general deterrence

The commentary also suggests reforms in sentencing policy and practice that could scale back the length of prison terms without causing any negative consequences for public safety.

October 10, 2007 at 03:59 PM | Permalink


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Good article but it overlooked other important detrimental effects of America's draconian sentences: increasing physical and mental brutalization of inmates; increasing anti-social behavior by inmates in prison and out from learned "survival skills" while in prison; increasing anger and rage by inmates "at the system" for perceived unjust and irrational punishment; destruction of the inmate's family unit both economically and psychologically, wreaking havoc on innocent spouses and children, often leading to future generations of inmates.

Michael R. Levine

Posted by: Michael Levine | Oct 10, 2007 5:01:04 PM

What I find interesting is this paper is based on a discussion of research done by the DOJ and there is are no references to the DOJ or anyone else.

It is obvious that if we don't parole as many people we won't have as many parole revocations but if they are not on parole they are in prison contributing to prison crowding. Mauer seems to have ignored probation revocations a very large source of prison admissions. Probation a prison alternative which should help reduce prison crowding but it does not always work and some of the probationers are revoked and sent to prison. If the probation is for an offense with a mandatory minimum they have to serve the MM before they are eligible for parole and they may not get paroled because of their prior revocation.

Mauer also does not take into account the distribution of offense class. The less serious felonies with shorter sentences (usually no mandatory minimums) are most frequent offenses. The half life of Iowa prisons (how long it takes to release half of the prisoners) is 18 months much shorter than the mandatory minimums Mauer claims are the source of prison crowding.
Most of the folks entering prison are because of revocations and returns not new court commitments. The average number of returns per inmate depends on the offense subtype (DUI has the largest average number of returns) and the average length of confinement (obviously a short LOC provides more opportunities to return).

Posted by: JSN | Oct 10, 2007 6:22:24 PM

I encourage anyone interested in mandatory sentencing read on the web Manuel Gonzales the kid everyone forgot in the CA prison system ( Just Google this title
and see how cruel this system can be.

Posted by: Douglas Field | Oct 14, 2007 5:34:18 PM

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