The Latest

THE LATEST

THE LATEST THINKING

THE LATEST THINKING

The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.

One Part of Reform Nobody is Talking About

W. Scott Cole

Posted on December 16, 2019 21:41

2 users

It is true that in many areas, prison populations are falling. Courts in some places are starting to use alternatives to sentencing with good results, but sentences are getting longer and people are spending more time in prison. It’s time to start talking about that, too, no matter how hard that conversation is.

The number one purpose of prison is punishment. Hopefully, that is accompanied by rehabilitation programs and programs to help an inmate reintegrate into society when they are released. It seems the one question nobody seems to be asking is, “How much punishment is too much?”

In 1995, a teenaged armed robber in Colorado was sentenced to 146 years in prison. The only person injured in the robbery that got him that sentence was him. The prosecutor was angry that the sentence wasn’t more. With good time credits and early release, he could see the outside world again… in 2065, when he is almost 90 years old.

Compare that to the life sentence given to the youngest person ever sent to an adult prison in Colorado, a 10 year old convicted of murder in the late 1890s. Nine years later he escaped and was recaptured, so more time was added to his sentence. He was paroled at age 29, moved out of state, changed his name, and lived a long, crime free life working at a newspaper.

The modern prison is an American invention, created by the Quakers in the late 1700s to be a more humane alternative to death or banishment. Sentences were measured in months, not years. Criminals were expected to work, pray, and think about what they had done… to be penitent (hence the name penitentiary). Only the most serious crimes merited a prison sentence.

In 1785, New York law capped all non-homicide sentences to six months, and the United States was renowned for it’s fair treatment of criminals. Even in 1925, in Colorado, an aggravated robber was eligible for probation. If he went to prison, the maximum sentence was two years. Today, that same crime has a mandatory prison sentence and the minimum is 10 years.

Fast forward to today, and the United States is renowned for sending more of its citizens to prison and for keeping them there far longer than any other country in the world. The average sentence in the United States is 63 months. Despite having similar crime rates, Canada’s average is four months, Finland’s is 10, Germany’s is 12 and the closest any country in the Western world comes is Australia, at 36 months.

In Sweden, we can see the exact opposite of our sentencing scheme. Fourteen years is the standard sentence for murder. It can be extended to life in exceptional circumstances, but after 10 years, the convicted person can petition the court to have his sentence shortened to 18 years. Assault causing bodily harm will get you two years. Even with such lenient sentences, Sweden is the 18th safest country in the world and has a low crime rate. That would seem to be an indication they are doing something right with their prison system

The longer a sentence is, the harder it is for a released inmate to reintegrate back into society. We need to look at that as part of our next step in prison reform.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on December 16, 2019 21:41

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Source: The Hill

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on Tuesday urged charges to mandatory minimum sentencing amid the current push for criminal justice...

THE LATEST THINKING

Video Site Tour

The Latest
The Latest

Subscribe to THE LATEST Newsletter.

The Latest
The Latest

Share this TLT through...

The Latest