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Some Musings on Sentencing

Robert Franklin

Posted on June 28, 2019 22:56

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Sentencing laws in the United States are draconian, especially compared to the rest of the world. They also do not appear to be influential in deterring future criminality. Perhaps we could learn something from the rest of the developed world? After all, they have significantly lower crime rates and, well, lighter sentences.

Justice in America is a bizarre, retributive affair. It's harsh, punitive, and, at times, cruel. What we consider to be an administration of justice bears more likeness to the viciousness of yesteryear, so much so that punitive action in the American criminal justice system, compared to much of the developed world, is closer in administration to burning witches at the stake than guided by evolving philosophy and the human condition.

Most of the United States punishes violent crimes, like murder, with comparatively longer sentences. The majority of state statutes call for life sentences without parole or executions for those who commit particularly violent, premeditated murders. More lenient sentences call for the incarceration of individuals for 40, 50, 60, and even 99 years, and everything in-between.

America's homicide rate is around the 110th highest in the world. In fact, The United States' homicide rate is the highest of all developed nations. Countries with higher homicide rates are located in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Africa-- all nations with little governmental control, rampant crime and gang violence, and militant, malignant corruption that freezes attempts to stabilize these areas.

More impressively, two American territories, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, are in the top 16, with the former ranked third in the world.

Our European allies, meanwhile, boast some of the lowest homicide rates. Interestingly, their sentencing laws are what most of us would consider lenient. Iceland, for example, is ranked 212th in the world by homicide rate, and even though Icelandic law allows for life sentencing, most inmates can apply for parole after 16 years. Similarly, Sweden, ranked 201st, amended its incarceration laws to allow inmates a chance to amend their sentence after ten years. Most of Europe and significant portions of Asia follow these same trends, with parole options after a decade or so, and most inmates never receive sentences like those found in the United States.

These prisons also aren't overcrowded. They're are not for-profit. Their prison systems actually seem to work.

This is partly due to an approach to criminality that is more rooted in rehabilitation than retribution.

In the United States, reeducation and rehabilitation programs in prisons are disappearing. Inmates are canned together in disgusting conditions, beaten, humiliated, degraded, and raped, by other inmates and guards alike. The system -- from wardens to corrections officers to the courts and the general public -- seems to lack empathy for these men and women, and when combined with a failure to help them adjust to life on the outside, even "modest" U.S. sentences, 20 or 30 years, succeed only in beefing up the recidivism rate.

And the recidivism rate in America is high enough to prompt even the most law-and-order conservatives, like Jeff Sessions, to describe it as "unacceptable."

Maybe Europe is onto something. Maybe we should consider the possibility that sentencing severity, like the death penalty, is only achieving the opposite of its intended goal.

Robert Franklin

Posted on June 28, 2019 22:56

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