The adoption of truth-in-sentencing statutes appears to have resulted, at the state level, in a decrease in the length of sentences imposed but an increase in the total time served, including percent of the sentence imposed actually being spent in prison.
Average sentence lengths can decline while time served can stay the same or increase if mandatory time
TABLE 9.4 Average felony sentence lengths in state courts, by offense and type of sentence, 2002 SOURCE: Matthew R. Durose and Patrick A. Langan, Table 3. "Average Felony Sentence Lengths in State Courts, by Offense and Type of Sentence, 2002," in Felony Sentences in State Courts, 2002, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2004, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/fssc02.pdf (accessed March 31, 2005)
Maximum sentence length (in months) for felons sentenced to—
Most serious conviction offense
Other sexual assault
Motor vehicle theft
Note: For persons receiving a combination of sentences, the sentence designation came from the most severe penalty imposed prison being the most severe, followed by jail, then probation. Prison includes death sentences. Felons receiving a sentence other than incarceration or probation are classified under "probation." Means exclude sentences to death or to life in prison. This table is based on an estimated 945,167 cases.
a Includes nonnegligent manslaughter.
b Includes rape.
c Includes offenses such as negligent manslaughter and kidnapping.
d Includes motor vehicle theft.
e Includes forgery and embezzlement.
f Composed of nonviolent offenses such as receiving stolen property and vandalism.
in prison, as a percent of the sentence, increases. Thus, for instance, a person sentenced to five years serving 60% of his sentence serves as long as a person sentenced to four years who serves 75% of her sentence. In both cases time served will be three years.
Data in Table 9.4, the most recent comprehensive statistical measurement available, show that sentence lengths in 2002 were down almost uniformly from earlier years. Average length of sentence for all offenses was thirty-six months in 2002, down from sixty-nine months in 1990. During the same period, the average sentence for rape dropped from 128 months to 104 months and for robbery from 104 months to seventy-nine months. Only for murder (209 months in 1990 to 217 months in 2002) did the sentence increase in length. The percent of sentence actually served, however, rose during this time. According to Felony Sentences in State Courts, 2002 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2004), in 2002 convicted persons could expect to serve 51% of their sentences, up from 38% in 1990.
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