Impacts of Determinate and Indeterminate Sentence

It is a fact. Crimes are consistently disrupting public peace and continuously posing threats to life and property. Since the early decades, different states have prompted to adopt measures that would reduce, if not totally annihilate the occurrence of crimes. Thus, correctional strategies, programs, policies and interventions were adopted, including the employment of indeterminate and determinate sentencing measures. However, the question is how these measures vary from each other and how each affects the criminal justice system as a whole.

Indeterminate sentence is defined as a “method that left sentencing to the discretion of the judge and allowed the judge to fashion a sentence according to the rehabilitative needs of the criminal defendant” On the other hand, determinate sentence refers to “confinement for a fixed or minimum period that is specified by statute”. It has a set of sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimum sentences, and enhanced sentences for certain crimes.

In general, sentencing has four major goals: retribution, rehabilitation, deterrence and incapacitation. With retribution is attached the concept that criminal behavior are bound to be punished; incapacitation, that of detaining offenders so they may be unable to commit crimes; deterrence, that of emphasizing the onerousness of punishment so repugnant that neither the punished offender or others will commit the crime, and; rehabilitation, that of changing the offenders so they may no longer commit crimes.

Indeterminate sentence for this matter focuses on the last goal that is, rehabilitating the offender so that they may no longer commit the crime while determinate sentence is focused on deterring crimes. ( MacKenzie, 2006) Much has changed in the philosophy and sentencing and correctional practices in the past thirty years. For the first few decades of the twentieth century, much emphasis was had on the purpose of rehabilitation in sentencing and corrections. Eventually, it moved to a crime control paradigm and focused on deterring crimes and incapacitating the offenders.

Under the indeterminate sentence model, “legislatures set maximum authorized sentences; judges sentenced offenders to imprisonment, probation and fines and set maximum durations; correctional officials had power over granting good time, earned time and forloughs; and parole boards set release dates” (MacKenzie, 2006). With indeterminate sentencing, the idea was individualization of sentences coupled with rehabilitation focusing on community treatment, diversion, reintegration, education and employment programs for the offenders.

However, owing to a number of studies refuting the effectiveness of rehabilitation, indeterminate sentencing was attacked on the ground that it became a means of “coddling criminals”. The belief is that rehabilitation should be voluntary and not coerced. Thus, the birth of flat sentencing or determinate model of sentencing. Under this model, specific crimes would correspond to specific and clearly identified sentence length.

Also, parole releases were eliminated and sentence lengths are determined specifically and not merely providing a broad minimum or maximum periods as established by guidelines. But what are the implications of determinate sentencing and indeterminate sentencing on issues as recidivism, parole and probation, crime rates, and on the criminal justice system as a whole? Probation and parole as a criminal sentence are offshoots of the indeterminate sentencing as brought about by reform movements in the criminal justice system during the early twentieth century.

Although both probation and parole involve the supervision of convicted criminals, these systems are distinct in themselves. Probation is ordered by a judge while parole is granted by a parole board. While probation is an alternative to prison, parole is an early release from prison. Finally, probation is reserved for persons convicted of less serious offenses while parole is given to persons convicted of serious offenses (http://law. jrank. org/pages/9452/Probation. html).

In fine, both are aimed at rehabilitating the offender although each involves varying correctional programs. Probation and parole rules may vary in different states. In Wisconsin, for example, persons sentenced to prison other than those sentenced to life under the indeterminate sentence model, must “serve a minimum of the greater of six months or 25% of the court-imposed sentence before becoming eligible for parole (commonly referred to as the “parole eligibility date”). Inmates serving life sentences become eligible for parole after serving 13 years and four months.

A judge may, however, set any parole eligibility date that is later than the statutorily-defined date or may impose a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for crimes punishable by life imprisonment. The use of “good time credit” also affects the length of time a felon is imprisoned under an indeterminate sentence. Under this concept, inmates receive credit against the time they are sentenced to serve based on the inmate’s performance in the areas of prison duties, labor and educational studies.

” (Carmichael, 2001) If a person is convicted of a crime, a court may grant probation, either by withholding a sentence or by imposing a sentence and staying its execution. The person is then placed on probation under the supervision of the Department of Corrections and the court may impose any reasonable and appropriate conditions on the probationer other than the rules and regulations that Corrections may also impose on the offender.

The period of probation may be made consecutive to a sentence on a different charge, whether imposed at the same time or previously but no consecutive probationary periods may be granted by the court.. Under this system, the court may even require that a probationer be confined in a county jail, Huber (work release) facility, work camp or tribal jail for up to one year during the term of probation as a condition of probation in addition to the possibility of requiring the probationer of performing community service work for a public agency or a nonprofit charitable organization.

(Carmichael, 2001) Alarming in this system, however, is the increasing numbers of parolees and probationers in state prisons and corrections. At the end of 2005 alone, a total of 784,408 adult men and women were on parole for mandatory conditional release following a prison term. The population grew by 1. 6% during the year, or greater than the average annual increase of 1. 4% since 1995 while probationers accounted for half the growth in the correctional population since 1990 (Glaze and Bonzcar, 2006).

These zooming figures amount to increased government spending and more stringent legal policies. Sentencing is also claimed to have certain impacts on recidivism. In a research paper on recidivism of sex offenders by Dr. Karen Gelb, senior criminologist for the Sentencing Advisory Council in Australia, only 13. 4 per cent of recidivist sex offenders were known to have committed a new sex offence within five years. This however, was a likely conservative estimate and since only 0.

7 percent of the 143, 900 sexual assaults reported in a victim survey conducted in Australia two years ago resulted in the offender’s imprisonment, he suggests among others that “INDEFINITE sentences, which carry no parole period but must be reviewed after a specified or “nominal” period” ( Wilkinson, 2007) Indeterminate sentencing does not seem to provide the answer to cutting down on recidivism. Although indeterminate sentencing primarily focuses on rehabilitating the offenders, a number of studies has proven rehabilitation in itself ineffective, or leaves more to be desired.

In Project Greenlight, Wilson (2005) reported that re-entry efforts have failed spectacularly. The results yielded a contrary expectation upon rehabilitation because Greenlight participants recidivated at higher rates than either off the comparison groups after one year of post release ranging from new arrests, new felony arrests to revocation. Crime rates in the past are measured by crime index. From 1930 to 1950, crime levels were fair until the later years up until the early 1970s.

This was the period when indeterminate sentencing was greatly emphasized and reforms were directed in this area. By the time determinate sentence was operationalized, the crime rates apparently plateud during the last quarter of the century and the rate has dropped and climbed by as much as 900 crimes per 100,000 population over the last 20 years. Currently, the United States is in the midst of the longest period of decline over the entire period shown, with a 1998 crime rate of 4,615 per 100,000 population, the lowest since 1973, when the rate was 4,155 (Crime and Justice Atlas, 2000).

With this data, it is apparent that determinate sentencing must have deterred crime occurrence. This, however, is not conclusive in itself owing to the existence of other external factors such as changing polices, amendments to the legal systems and other criminal philosophies. In closing, determinate and indeterminate sentencing may be viewed from different perspectives. It may either be viewed in light of considering the offenders as persons bound for rehabilitation or merely additional government costs.

Whatever it may be, though, one clear cut solution is the establishment of better and more effective criminal policies and programs in deterring or minimizing crimes. Rehabilitation programs are ideally good unless they are implemented efficiently and more effectively.

Works Cited

Carmichael, C. D. (2001) Sentencing and Probation in Wisconsin. State of Wisconsin, Legislative Fiscal Bureau. (p. 13-18). <http://www. legis. state. wi. us/lfb/informationalpapers/2001/54. pdf> Glaze, L. E. and Bonczar, T. P. (2006) Probation and Parole in the United States, 2005. NCJ 215091.US Department of Justice. <http://www. ojp. usdoj. gov/bjs/pub/pdf/ppus05. pdf > Historical Data (2000). Crime and Justice Atlas. <http://www. jrsainfo. org/programs/Historical. pdf> Wilkinson, G. (2007) Sex Crime Roulette. Australia: Herald Sun <http://www. news. com. au/heraldsun/story/0,21811,21132169-2862,00. html> Wilson, J. , Cheryachukin, Y. , Davis, R. C. , Dauphinee, J. , Hope, R. , Gehi, K, & Ross, T. (2005). Smoothing the path from prison to home: A summary. NIJ Grant #2002-RT-BX-1001. New York: Vera Institute of Justice (http://www.vera.org/publication_pdf/319_590.pdf).