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December 20, 2022

Council on Criminal Justice releases "Long Sentences: An International Perspective"

In this post earlier this year, I noted the formation of the Council of Criminal Justice's impressive Task Force on Long Sentences.  Today, this CCJ press release, titled "New Analysis Shows U.S. Imposes Long Prison Sentences More Frequently than Other Nations," reports on a new issue brief from the CCJ Task Force.  Here are the details from the press release:

New research released today by a Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) task force shows that while the use of prison sentences of 10 years or more has increased globally in recent decades, the United States is an outlier among nations in the extent to which it imposes them.

Long sentences are imposed more frequently and are longer on average in the U.S. compared with most other countries, according to the analysis produced for CCJ’s Task Force on Long Sentences by Prof. Lila Kazemian of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  The average long sentence in the U.S. is more closely aligned with criminal justice practices in Mexico, El Salvador, and other Latin American countries than with those of peer nations in Europe.

Differences in the actual amount of time people serve behind bars are smaller, the study found, owing to requirements in some countries that people serve greater portions of their court-imposed sentences before release.

The higher rate of homicide in the U.S. compared with European countries partially explains its more frequent use of long sentences, according to original calculations.  For instance, the report says that “while Georgia and Alabama were ranked first and second for the percent of the prison population sentenced to 10 or more years, these states dropped down to the 36th and 55th ranks, respectively, with the adjustment for their higher homicide rates.  Luxembourg, Italy, Spain, Croatia, and Utah are the top five users of long sentences adjusted for homicide rates.  Norway, which is ranked among the lowest nations for incarceration rate (73rd out of 75 jurisdictions included in the comparison) and percentage of people serving long prison terms (70th out of 75), jumps up to the 16th spot when considering its low homicide rate.”

“This is the most authoritative and comprehensive report to date on how long sentences in the U.S. compare with those in other nations,” said John Maki, director of the Task Force on Long Sentences. “Its findings underscore the uniquely severe features of U.S. sentencing, which has more in common with developing nations than other affluent countries.”

Because criminal justice policies and incarceration rates vary dramatically across U.S. states, Kazemian compared sentencing trends in individual states with other nations.  A higher proportion of long sentences in a jurisdiction could either be the result of greater use of such sentences or of less use of prison for more minor offenses.  As such, a high proportion of long sentences is not synonymous with more punitive sentencing policies and practices.

Additional findings in the report show that:

  • Many European countries have increased their use of long sentences in recent decades.  In Germany, for instance, the proportion of the long-term prisoner population sentenced to life imprisonment increased from 21.4% in 1995 to 30.2% in 2012.

  • For homicide and rape — the crimes most likely to result in a long sentence — Australia and the U.S. were leaders in the amount of time people actually serve behind bars, according to the most recent available data, with England, Wales, and Scotland not far behind.

  • Comparisons of average sentence length for homicide show that the U.S. has the longest sentences among nations at 40.6 years, compared to 34.2 years for Mexico (ranked second) and 6.1 for France.  The higher average sentence length in the U.S. may partly reflect the fact that American policies allow for sentences exceeding 100 years.

  • The U.S. holds a substantial portion (40%) of the world’s population of people serving life sentences, as well as the vast majority (83%) of those sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.  While most jurisdictions with life sentencing laws have a provision for release, the amount of time people must serve before becoming eligible varies widely. In Belgium, Denmark, and Finland, it’s 12 years or less. In Georgia, it’s 30 years and in Texas it’s 40 years.

December 20, 2022 at 12:34 PM | Permalink


What should be the penalty for forcible rape--let's say guy does a home invasion and rapes a 16 year old girl in front of her family. Assume the standard mitigation BS. Assume person is 20.





Posted by: federalist | Dec 20, 2022 12:37:19 PM

The report details that the average rape (and homicide) sentence in the US have long been longer than in other western nations:

"As early as the 1980s, the U.S. maintained an average sentence length that was considerably longer than in most other nations in the comparison (around 1980: 21.2 years for homicide; 10.3 years for rape); these figures remained stable through the early 1990s and 2000s. Around the year 2000, the average imposed sentence length in the U.S. was more than twice as long for homicide and about five times longer for rape compared with the Netherlands (8.4 years for homicide, not shown in Figure 2a; 2.3 years for rape) and Sweden (8.2 years for homicide; 1.9 years for rape)."

Of course, "rapes" and sexual assault run the gamut from example you describe to far more common variations. This site, https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence, asserts that "On average, there are 463,634 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States." Would you advocate spending the resources to give LWOP to hundreds of thousands of sex offenders? Of course, that sadly is just a tiny part of the problem: "More than 29 million report of suspected child exploitation are received by the national center for missing and exploited children annually." https://www.thorn.org/child-pornography-and-abuse-statistics/ Are you going to seek LWOP or long sentences for all these folks, too?

In all these settings, I think a lot more information is needed to make a sound and thoughtful assessment of how much time a person must live in a cage.

Posted by: Doug B. | Dec 20, 2022 3:40:32 PM

Federalist - stop being such a cynic. Incarceration should be used only sparingly as incarceration often fails to reduce recidivism, which ultimately makes all of us less safe. "Tough on crime" policies may satisfy a more primitive desire but they are often expensive and only perpetuate crime by making it less likely that people caught up in that system will receive the skills necessary to become productive citizens. Prison should only be used for the shortest amount of time possible and it should only be used as a last resort (restorative justice, diversion programs, and other measures that reduce reoffending and prison populations.
Brett Miler

Posted by: Brett Miler | Dec 20, 2022 8:52:44 PM

I fully endorse the comments posted by both Professor Berman and Brett Miller. Well stated by both.

Whenever I read the comments posted by 'some of the others' on here, the image of the angry 'mob', with pitchforks and torches raised high, marching together thru the town in the middle of the night to Dr. Frankenstein's castle to "get the monster" regularly enters my mind.

Posted by: SG | Dec 20, 2022 11:30:05 PM

Good to see Doug, Brett and SG respond to the "call-out." It's just sad a large segment of Americans are so reactionary regarding crime. I think these people are fine with jailing 50 million people simply because. One wonders if these right wing reactionaries have jobs since tax payers are the ones footing the bill. I suppose conservatives don't care about personal responsibility and like spending their money to house thousands of able bodied young people.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 21, 2022 12:10:32 AM

Bravo to Professor Berman, Miller and Anon regarding your comments. America's prison 'experiment' has failed to make us any safer. It surely has stabilized the incomes in many of the rural areas in which the prisons are built but are we better off as a country? The answer MUST be a resounding no.

This is why I posted several days ago about the 'evolving standards of decency.' A country that incarcerates its citizens at the rate that we do cannot be evolving towards anything morally decent. Sometimes I shudder at some of the sentences (still be served) that were meted out un Der the mandatory Sentencing Guidelines in the 90s.

But, on the flip side, reading you all's comments always leaves room for hope. Nevertheless, it's going to take some smart policy-making and some 'backbone' to get it right.

Posted by: Eric Hicks | Dec 21, 2022 7:08:23 AM

federalist, from a slightly different perspective. Assume this 16 year old becomes pregnant from the rape. Must she be forced against her will to carry the pregnancy and give birth?

Posted by: anon1 | Dec 21, 2022 9:44:00 AM

John Knock, a nonviolent, marijuana only, first time offender received a sentence of two life terms plus twenty in the 11th circuit for conspiracy to import, distribute and money launder. This was a reverse sting dry conspiracy initiated by law enforcement. Most of the importing was into Canada, Europe and Australia.

The RCMP and European law enforcement participated in the investigation and testified at the trial. About 10 years into the sentence I was contacted by these people who just wanted to say they were shocked that he was still incarcerated. This is a sentence that would never be given in the countries where most of the importing was done.

There is another component to this. If you have ever visited inmates in these countries it is remarkable how different the confinement is. The conditions of confinement are much more humane.

Posted by: beth curtis | Dec 21, 2022 1:42:49 PM


Better to spend the money on incarcerating all of those “able bodied young people,” than see them beat up and rape disabled old people for the $40 they were going to spend on groceries.

Those “able bodied young people” are making our cities uninhabitable, demonstrated by the thousands leaving Chicago, Detroit, NY, LA, SanFran, etc., for greener pastures.

Criminality is like rabies. If you can get to it before infected, you greatly reduce the chance of the worst outcome. Criminals, like rabid dogs, are almost impossible to treat once infected.

One of the seeds of criminality is bastardy and other social and cultural ills. Solve the problem there because it is too late once they are committing crimes serious enough for prison. At that point, the cage is the best of bad alternatives.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Dec 21, 2022 7:37:05 PM


She should not be allowed to kill another human being because someone harmed her.

If someone kills my brother, I shouldn’t be able to murder the killer’s sister.

It’s actually pretty simple.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Dec 21, 2022 7:39:51 PM

Yes, criminality is indeed like rabies. However, a lot of the criminality that anon highlights as occurring in these inner-cities is a direct result of America's sordid history of inequality.

Inequality, when it is endorsed through decades of policy is crime. It's the worst possible crime imaginable!! Yet, we have never incarcerated a single one of those 'able-bodied' policymakers who are directly responsible for the crime of inequality.

Only when we get serious about addressing the crime of historic inequality authorized by able-bodied policy makers can we begin to solve the problem inner city crime.

Posted by: Eric Hicks | Dec 21, 2022 8:50:24 PM

Addressing? How do we address the past? Does a minority TODAY not have a chance to be the next Ben Carson or Barack Obama? We have equality. What you want is equity.

No one can undo the crimes of the past, slavery, Jim Crow, etc. And there is no doubt that it has negatively impacted the lives of minorities through the present time. However, all we can do now is give equal opportunity, not equal outcomes. People have to earn that themselves.

Until the lessons of how to be successful (nuclear families, loyalty, dedication to God, community, and family) are taught and learned, you are just admiring the problem.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Dec 21, 2022 9:51:34 PM

Tarls, neither an embryo nor a foetus is a human being.

Posted by: anon1 | Dec 21, 2022 11:35:52 PM

Every embryology textbook says you are wrong.

Human development is a continuous process that begins when an oocyte (ovum) from a female is fertilized by a sperm (or spermatozoon) from a male. (p. 2); … but the embryo begins to develop as soon as the oocyte is fertilized. (p. 2); … Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm … unites with a female gamete or oocyte … to form a single cell. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual. (p. 18)

Keith Moore and T.V.N. Persaud, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (6th ed.)

Although life is a continuous process, fertilization … is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte.

Ronan O’Rahilly and Fabiola Muller, Human Embryology & Teratology, 3rd ed.

“Zygote. This cell results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm during fertilization. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo).”

Moore, Keith L. and Persaud, T.V.N. The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology. 7th edition.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Dec 22, 2022 11:24:12 AM

Tarls, everything you cite proves that the embryo and foetus lead to an eventual human being, proving my point: that neither a zygote, embryo, or foetus is at the moment an actual human being.

Posted by: anon1 | Dec 22, 2022 1:46:42 PM

You aren’t that dumb, rather you just have nowhere else to go. Your comment is simply dishonest.

Humans, like all species, develop. They start at its simplest form at fertilization through the stages of pregnancy, birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age, and death. It is ALL human development.

There is literally nothing that biologically happens to a baby when it passes through what you must believe is a magical life giving vagina. It is the same being before as after.

The texts even use wording such as “unique individual.” An individual what?

“…genetically distinct human organism…” What kind of organism, again? Oh, yeah, a HUMAN organism.

“…new human being…”

Using your “logic,” you could extract a fetus from a pig and another from a human and they are the same thing.


Posted by: TarlsQtr | Dec 22, 2022 3:52:53 PM

Tarls, you begin your response to anon1 as follows: "Humans, like all species, develop. They start at its simplest form at fertilization..." But that concedes anon1's point. No sane person could believe that a cell at the moment of fertilization is a human being. Utterly laughable.

Posted by: anon2 | Dec 22, 2022 5:01:34 PM

Uh, yeah, develop. You do know what that means, especially in terms of biology, right?

Humans “develop.” That’s true from a zygote to a fetus, a fetus to a child, and an adult to death. The end phase is not becoming a “human.” The final phase is death and is the END of development. Everything from beginning to death is a human being in development.

Again, you are not this stupid as to believe those scientific sources above somehow support your position.

It’s why you don’t actually deal with my points. By your logic, a prenatal pig and prenatal human are the exact same thing (a mere fetus) until this magical moment that you never pinpoint arrives and they become a pig and a human.

A “human organism”, which is the phrasing used in one source, is a human being.

Your attempted defense of your position is utterly pathetic.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Dec 22, 2022 7:14:15 PM

Let’s go back to the text: “…genetically distinct human organism…”

From Oxford Dictionary: organism-an individual animal, plant, or single-celled life form.

Is a human fetus a plant? Nope. Is it a “single-celled life form? Nope. A human life begins with two cells (sperm and egg).

That leaves one possibility. An animal. Bingo! That’s the one. Is a fetus “genetically distinct?” Check. So, we know it is an organism? Check. Humans are a kind of animal. Check.

The only thing left for you to do is get your “Science Denier” ID card. I hear the flat earthers have their own printing press and can make you one.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Dec 22, 2022 7:29:54 PM

Human Development from a medical text:

The major stages of the human lifecycle are defined as follows:

Pregnancy. The development of a zygote into an embryo and then into a fetus in preparation for childbirth.

Infancy. The earliest part of childhood. It is the period from birth through age one.

Toddler years. Occur during ages two and three and are the end of early childhood.

Childhood. Takes place from ages four to eight.

Puberty. The period from ages nine to thirteen, which is the beginning of adolescence.

Older adolescence. The stage that takes place between ages fourteen and eighteen.

Adulthood. The period from adolescence to the end of life and begins at age nineteen.

Middle age. The period of adulthood that stretches from age thirty-one to fifty.

Senior years, or old age. Extend from age fifty-one until the end of life.


Posted by: TarlsQtr | Dec 22, 2022 7:38:52 PM

Tarls, your erudition and citations notwithstanding, your assertion that a bunch of cells at fertilization is a human being is and will always be utterly and entirely unconvincing.

Posted by: anon13 | Dec 23, 2022 3:38:22 PM

Tarls and various anons, whatever the scientific view of when fertilized cells become a human being, religions have their own positions. In Jewish law, for example, a foetus is not considered a human being until it has been. Here is one summary:

"The fetus is regarded as a part of the mother’s body and not a separate being until it begins to egress from the womb during parturition (childbirth). In fact, until forty days after conception, the fertilized egg is considered as “mere fluid.” These beliefs form the basis for the Jewish legal view on abortion.

Intentional abortion is not mentioned directly in the Bible, but a case of accidental abortion is discussed in Exodus 21:22 23, where Scripture states: “When men fight and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a miscarriage results, but no other misfortune ensues, the one responsible shall be fined as the woman’s husband may exact from him, the payment to be based on judges’ reckoning. But if other misfortune ensues, the penalty shall be life for life.”

The medieval biblical commentator Solomon ben Isaac, known as Rashi, interprets “no other misfortune” to mean no fatal injury to the woman following her miscarriage. In that case, the attacker pays only financial compensation for having unintentionally caused the miscarriage, no differently than if he had accidentally injured the woman elsewhere on her body.

Most other Jewish Bible commentators, including Moses Nachmanides (Ramban), Abraham Ibn Ezra, Meir Leib ben Yechiel Michael (Malbim), Baruch Malawi Epstein (Torah Temimah), Samson Raphael Hirsch, Joseph Hertz, and others, agree with Rashi’s interpretation. We can thus conclude that when the mother is otherwise unharmed following trauma to her abdomen during which the fetus is lost, the only rabbinic concern is to have the one responsible pay damages to the woman and her husband for the loss of the fetus. None of the rabbis raise the possibility of involuntary manslaughter being involved because the unborn fetus is not legally a person and, therefore, there is no question of murder involved when a fetus is aborted.

Based upon this biblical statement. Moses Maimonides asserts as follows: “If one assaults a woman, even unintentionally, and her child is born prematurely, he must pay the value of the child to the husband and the compensation for injury and pain to the woman.” Maimonides continues with statements regarding how these compensations are computed. A similar declaration is found in Joseph Karo’s legal code Shulkhan Aruch. No concern is expressed by either Maimonides or Karo regarding the status of the miscarried fetus. It is part of the mother and belongs jointly to her and her husband, and thus damages must be paid for its premature death. However, the one who was responsible is not culpable for murder, since the unborn fetus is not considered a person.

Turning to talmudic sources, the Mishnah asserts the following: “If a woman is having difficulty in giving birth [and her life is in danger], one cuts up the fetus within her womb and extracts it limb by limb, because her life takes precedence over that of the fetus. But if the greater part was already born, one may not touch it, for one may not set aside one person’s life for that of another.”

Rabbi Yom Tov Lippman Heller, known as Tosafot Yom Tov, in his commentary on this passage in the Mishnah, explains that the fetus is not considered a nefesh until it has egressed into the air of the world and, therefore, one is permitted to destroy it to save the mother’s life. Similar reasoning is found in Rashi’s commentary on the talmudic discussion of this mishnaic passage, where Rashi states that as long as the child has not come out into the world, it is not called a living being, i.e., nefesh. Once the head of the child has come out, the child may not be harmed because it is considered as fully born, and one life may not be taken to save another.

Posted by: Mendelfendel | Dec 23, 2022 4:04:17 PM


What you wrote: “Tarls, your erudition and citations notwithstanding, your assertion that a bunch of cells at fertilization is a human being is and will always be utterly and entirely unconvincing.”

A statement of equal standing: “Tarls, your erudition and citations notwithstanding, your assertion that the world is round(ish) is and will always be utterly and entirely unconvincing.”

The first is no less a denial of all available scientific data than the other.

It’s why none of the “anons” (I’m assuming you are all the same henceforth) have made a single argument in this thread, only an opinion based as much on “religious conviction” and “faith” as someone who uses the Bible who you probably scoff at. You then just repeat it over and over. The closest you get is pretending the evidence I presented says the exact opposite of its clear meaning.

My argument is “unconvincing” because it is impossible to convince you otherwise regardless of any evidence presented. It is a classic case of “invincible ignorance.”

For the sake of the criminal justice system, I pray you are not a lawyer, or, at least, not an accurate representation of the bar in this country.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Dec 23, 2022 5:01:15 PM

Tarls, for my part I pray that you gain some humility, recognize that you could be wrong, and treat those who disagree with you with at least some measure of respect.

Posted by: anon | Dec 23, 2022 5:17:17 PM


One of us has presented uncontested scientific evidence for his position, the other just repeats the ideological position he prefers.

I’m following those with the expertise, so it’s not my humility that is the problem. It’s the (lack of) humility from one who believes he knows more than virtually every embryologist in the world.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Dec 23, 2022 11:20:49 PM

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