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June 1, 2022

Robina Institute releases big new report on "American Prison-Release Systems: Indeterminacy in Sentencing and the Control of Prison Population Size"

American_prison-release_systems_page_coverThe Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice today released this great big new report titled ""American Prison-Release Systems: Indeterminacy in Sentencing and the Control of Prison Population Size."  Here are excerpts from this important report's introduction:

“Indeterminacy” is the product of uncertainty, after a judge has pronounced a prison sentence, about later official decisions that will influence the actual time served by the defendant.  The uncertainty extends over many future decisions, such as good-time awards or forfeitures by prison officials and release or release-denial decisions by parole boards.  To the extent these later decision patterns are unpredictable, the judge’s sentence is “indeterminate” on the day of sentencing.  When prison sentences are highly indeterminate, many months or years of time-to-be-served can be unforeseeable in individual cases.

From a systemic perspective, indeterminacy can be seen as the field of play in which back-end officials with time-served discretion exercise their powers.  The larger the field — the greater the degree of indeterminacy — the greater the whole-system impact of back-end decisions.  Indeterminacy builds up cumulative effects over hundreds and thousands of cases. In systems with high degrees of indeterminacy, a substantial amount of control over prison population size is located at the back end of the system.  In many states, back-end officials have more to say about prison numbers than sentencing courts.

For those concerned about mass incarceration, serious attention should be paid to the prison-release frameworks at the back ends of America sentencing systems.  These are varied and are often highly complex.  In each state, it is important to consider the institutional structure for release decisions, how and by whom time-served discretion is currently being exercised, and the range of possibilities for future changes in existing decision patterns.  Not all, but a large portion of the nation’s prison policy is implicated. In recent years, much of the mass incarceration debate has been focused on “front-end” decisionmakers such as courts and prosecutors.  For a comprehensive slate of possible reforms, equal attention must be directed to the back end.

This project offers new conceptual tools to better understand and compare the wide range of prison-release systems across America.  We hope this will allow state officials to see their own systems in new perspective, and may shine a spotlight on policy options that would otherwise go unseen.

June 1, 2022 at 08:42 AM | Permalink

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