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Sentencing and Corrections - What Is The Solution?

crime justice victim fiscal

Is prison the answer to crime? Is prison supposed to punish, or is it supposed to rehabilitate? It is certainly the primary method the government uses to show that it takes crime seriously and will not let it go unpunished. It keeps dangerously violent criminals off the street, which has very likely contributed somewhat to the drop in crime during the 1990s.

Prisoners are often considered society's failures, people—mostly men—who have failed in their relationships with their families, schools, and jobs. They suffer disproportionately from physical, drug, and alcohol abuse. They may have low self-esteem and exhibit hostility towards others, especially those in authority. Prisoners bring their own society into prison, which usually revolves around drugs, smuggling, extortion, predatory sexual behavior, and violence.

Many penologists (persons who study prison management and the reformation of criminals) believe that locking up greater numbers of offenders reduces the rate of crime. Mandatory sentencing and habitual-offender laws give longer sentences to those who have broken the law. If criminals are in prison, they are not on the streets committing crimes. Some experts believe longer sentences have acted as a deterrent and played a major role in the recent decline in criminal activity.

TABLE 6.17
Characteristics of adults on probation, 1995, 2000, and 2002

Characteristic of adults on probation 1995 2000 2002
Total 100% 100% 100%
Gender
Male 79% 78% 77%
Female 21 22 23
Race
White 53% 54% 55%
Black 31 31 31
Hispanic 14 13 12
American Indian/Alaska Native 1 1 1
Asian/Pacific Islander1 -- 1 1
Status of probation
Direct imposition 48% 56% 60%
Split sentence 15 11 9
Sentence suspended 26 25 22
Imposition suspended 6 7 9
Other 4 1 1
Status of supervision
Active 79% 76% 75%
Inactive 8 9 10
Absconded 9 9 11
Supervised out of state 2 3 2
Other 2 3 2
Type of offense
Felony 54% 52% 50%
Misdemeanor 44 46 49
Other infractions 2 2 1
Most serious offense
Sexual assault ** ** 2%
Domestic violence ** ** 7
Other assault ** ** 10
Burglary ** ** 8
Larceny/theft ** ** 13
Fraud ** ** 5
Drug law violations ** 24 24
Driving while intoxicated 16 18 17
Minor traffic offenses ** 6 6
Other 84 52 8
Adults entering probation
Without incarceration 72% 79% 83%
With incarceration 13 16 14
Other types 15 5 2
Adults leaving probation
Successful completions 62% 60% 62%
Returned to incarceration 21 15 14
With new sentence 5 3 3
With the same sentence 13 8 6
Unknown 3 4 4
Absconder2 ** 3 3
Other unsuccessful2 ** 11 13
Death 1 1 --
Other 16 11 9
Note: For every characteristic there were persons of unknown status or type. Detail may not sum to total because of rounding.
**Not available.
--Less than 0.5%.
1Includes Native Hawaiians.
2In 1995 absconder and other unsucessful were reported among "other".
SOURCE: Lauren E. Glaze, "Table 4: Characteristics of Adults on Probation, 1995, 2000, and 2002," in "Probation and Parole in the United States, 2002," Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, August 2003

Others disagree. In "Reforming Sentencing and Corrections for Just Punishment and Public Safety," (Sentencing and Corrections, National Institute of Justice,

TABLE 6.18
Characteristics of adults on parole, 1995, 2000, and 2002

Characteristic 1995 2000 2002
Total 100% 100% 100%
Gender
Male 90% 88% 86%
Female 10 12 14
Race
White 34% 38% 39%
Black 45 40 42
Hispanic 21 21 18
American Indian/Alaska Native 1 1 1
Asian/Pacific Islander1 -- -- --
Status of supervision
Active 78% 83% 82%
Inactive 11 4 4
Absconded 6 7 8
Supervised out of state 4 5 5
Other -- 1 2
Sentence length
Less than 1 year 6% 3% 4%
1 year or more 94 97 96
Type of offense
Violent ** ** 24%
Property ** ** 26
Drug ** ** 40
Other ** ** 10
Adults entering parole
Discretionary parole 50% 37% 39%
Mandatory parole 45 54 52
Reinstatement 4 6 7
Other 2 2 2
Adults leaving parole
Successful completion 45% 43% 45%
Returned to incarceration 41 42 41
With new sentence 12 11 11
Other 29 31 30
Absconder2 ** 9 9
Other unsuccessful2 ** 2 2
Transferred 2 1 1
Death 1 1 1
Other 10 2 1
Note: For every characteristic there were persons of unknown status or type. Detail may not sum to total because of rounding.
--Less than 0.5%.
**Not available.
1Includes Native Hawaiians.
2In 1995 absconder and "other unsuccessful" statuses were reported among "other."
SOURCE: Lauren E. Glaze, "Table 7: Characteristics of Adults on Parole, 1995, 2000, and 2002," in "Probation and Parole in the United States, 2002," Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, August 2003

No. 4, September 1999), authors Michael E. Smith and Walter J. Dickey reported on hearings by the Wisconsin Governor's Task Force on Sentencing and Corrections conducted in 1996, which focused on a Milwaukee neighborhood where public safety "was in serious disrepair." According to the police testimony at the hearings, at a certain high crime corner some "94 drug arrests were made within a 3-month period.… Despite the two-year prison terms routinely handed down by the sentencing judges (for drug offenses), the drug market continued to thrive at the intersection, posing

TABLE 6.19
Executive clemency applications for federal offenses received, disposed of, and pending in Office of U.S. Pardon Attorney, fiscal years 1953–2002

Granted
Fiscal year Pending from previous fiscal year Received Pardons Commutations Denied
1953 5431 599 97 8 356
1954 681 461 55 7 348
1955 732 662 59 4 684
1956 647 585 192 9 568
1957 463 585 232 4 443
1958 369 406 98 6 302
1959 369 434 117 2 286
1960 398 437 149 5 244
1961 4371 481 226 18 266
1962 408 595 166 16 315
1963 506 592 133 45 233
1964 6871 921 315 73 437
1965 783 1,008 195 80 569
1966 947 865 364 81 726
1967 641 863 222 23 520
1968 739 749 13 3 415
1969 1,0571 724 0 0 505
1970 1,276 459 82 14 698
1971 941 454 157 16 648
1972 574 516 235 20 410
1973 425 485 202 5 341
1974 362 426 187 8 337
1975 256 610 147 9 325
1976 385 742 106 11 442
1977 5681 738 129 8 301
1978 868 641 162 3 836
1979 508 710 143 10 448
1980 617 523 155 11 498
1981 4741 547 76 7 259
1982 679 462 83 3 547
1983 508 447 91 2 306
1984 556 447 37 5 326
1985 635 407 32 3 279
1986 728 362 55 0 290
1987 745 410 23 0 311
1988 824 384 38 0 497
1989 6731 373 41 1 392

risks to the safety of all who lived nearby or had to pass through on their way to work or school." According to the testimony, the incarceration of some 100 drug-offense felons "did not increase the public safety at the street corner."

As an alternative to incarceration, programs advocating restorative and community justice are based on principles that address the needs of victims, communities and offenders. As reported by Leena Kurki in "Incorporating Restorative and Community Justice Into American Sentencing and Corrections" (Sentencing and Corrections, National Institute of Justice, No. 3, September 1999), the basic principles of restorative justice are that crime involves disruptions in a three-dimensional relationship of victim, offender, and community; that because crime harms the victim and the community, the primary goals should be to repair that harm by healing the victim and community; that the victim, community, and offender should all participate in determining the response to crime; and that case disposition should be based primarily on the victim's and the community's needs.

TABLE 6.19
Executive clemency applications for federal offenses received, disposed of, and pending in Office of U.S. Pardon Attorney, fiscal years 1953–2002

Granted
Fiscal year Pending from previous fiscal year Received Pardons Commutations Denied
1990 616 354 0 0 289
1991 681 318 29 0 681
1992 289 379 0 0 192
1993 4761 868 36 2 251
1994 1,048 808 0 0 785
1995 1,071 612 53 3 588
1996 1,039 512 0 0 371
1997 1,174 685 0 0 555
1998 1,304 608 21 0 378
1999 1,512 1,009 34 14 601
20002 1,872 1,388 70 6 1,027
20013 2,153 1,169 218 40 160
2002 3,320 1,248 0 0 1,985
Note: Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution authorizes the president to grant executive clemency for federal criminal offenses. The U.S. pardon attorney, in consultation with the attorney general's office, receives and reviews all petitions for executive clemency, initiates the necessary investigations, and prepares the recommendations of the attorney general to the president. Clemency may be a reprieve, remission of fine or restitution, commutation, or pardon. A "pardon," which is generally considered only after sentence completion, restores basic civil rights and may aid in the reinstatement of professional or trade licenses that may have been lost as a result of the conviction. A "commutation" is a reduction of sentence.
Commutations include remission of fines. Petitions denied also include those that are closed administratively. Cases in which multiple forms of relief were granted are counted in only one category. The figures presented in this table do not include clemency actions on draft resisters, or military deserters and absentees during the Vietnam war era.
1In inaugural years, these figures are for the outgoing administration.
2In addition to the six commutations, President Clinton granted one reprieve of an execution date during fiscal year 2000.
3In addition to the 40 commutations, President Clinton granted 1 reprieve of an execution date during fiscal year 2001.
SOURCE: "Table 5.73: Executive Clemency Applications for Federal Offenses Received, Disposed of, and Pending in the Office of the U.S. Pardon Attorney, Fiscal Years 1953–2002," in Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 2002, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, DC, 2003

One example of restorative justice is Victim-Offender Mediation, in which offenders meet with the victim(s) of their crime. These meetings, facilitated by a mediator, focus on the effects of the crime on the life of the victim and on the community at large. A restitution agreement is reached between the offender and the victim. Another example of restorative justice is Family Group Conferencing, which involves the meeting of the victim and the offender plus family, friends, co-workers and teachers of the victim and offender. According to Kurki, family group conferencing originated in New Zealand, where it became part of the juvenile justice system in 1989. As of 1999, about 30 percent of juvenile offenders in New Zealand were sent to family group conferencing instead of to juvenile court.

A Rand Corporation report, Diverting Children from a Life of Crime: Measuring Costs and Benefits (1996), found that programs helping children avoid crime were more cost-effective than imprisoning repeat offenders for long periods. The study concluded that a state government could prevent 157 crimes annually by investing $1 million in parent-training programs. They could prevent another 258 crimes by investing $1 million in graduation incentive programs. On the other hand, spending $1 million in constructing and operating new prisons for long-term prisoners would prevent only 60 crimes a year. A cost-benefit comparison seems to favor spending on early crime intervention rather than on construction of prisons.

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